Satishchandran: Civil servant of a model kind


A 1953 batch IAS officer, his career was marked by great accomplishments. Both at the Centre and the state, he worked in several key assignments in energy, finance, industry and general administration. In whatever he did, he exhibited the same imprimatur that was to mark him out as distinct from others: mastery over work, rigorous application and marshalling of issues and communication skills. His stint as Union energy secretary culminated with his election as chairman of the World Energy Conference — a first for any Indian.

He returned to Karnataka as chief secretary in December 1983, at the behest of Ramakrishna Hegde who had taken over as chief minister a few months earlier. Given his extraordinary track record in Delhi, insiders rated him as a sure prospect for cabinet secretary which did not happen, though.

As chief secretary, he enjoyed an unusually long tenure of nearly five years. To his professional self, Satishchandran brought a formidable intellectual background. His academic training as an engineer (a product of the Indian Institute of Science) showed in the quantitative approach to work. I was deputy commissioner, Tumkur, in the 1980s and clearly remember the masterly manner in which he would introduce subjects and summarise discussions at the quarterly deputy commissioners’ conference in the presence of Hegde.

Satishchandran had a soft spot for Tumkur. He had spent his childhood in the town, where his father Ramiah was deputy commissioner. In fact, he told me once: “The T in my name stands for Tumkur”. Emboldened by this, I invited him to spend two days in the district visiting various rural development works in the taluks, interaction with officers and a full-fledged meeting in the district headquarters. As part of the old Mysore milieu, he would be religious as well. I had also arranged for visits to two venerated centres, the Yediyur Siddalingeshwara shrine and the Narasimha Temple at Devarayanadurga.

When the time came to bid him goodbye at Madhugiri, I asked him what he thought of the temples. He turned towards me with a half smile and said he was an agnostic! I quickly apologised for putting them on his programme. He put me at ease and replied: “Those were temples run by the government and I went as part of my duty.”

I was witness to Satishchandran's poise and dignified behaviour in an unusual incident towards the end of his tenure. In the ordinary course, he would have retired after holding office for four years on attaining the age of 58. The state government extended his service by six months and it was rumoured that a second extension was in the offing. This was understandably not to the liking of some officers, who by virtue of their seniority, were in line to become chief secretary.

The IAS Officers’ Association met and passed a resolution requesting Satishchandran not to ‘accept’ any further extension as this would be detrimental to the morale of the service. The association also resolved that the members of the executive committee, of which I was part, would present the resolution to the chief secretary in person. For the record, Satishchandran retired from service soon thereafter. It is rumoured that he declined the second extension.

But retirement did not keep Satishchandran away from the public domain. He served for five years as the director of the Institute for Social and Economic Change, established by Dr VKRV Rao. He moved to Delhi as principal secretary to the prime minister during the tenure of H D Deve Gowda, who reposed great confidence and trust in him. This was followed by a few months as governor of Goa before he was asked to resign by the newly formed NDA government in Delhi.

(The writer is Principal Secretary, Karnataka Thermal Power Corporation Ltd)

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