The title of this book made me curious to read this book of memoirs by a former IAS officer , CG Somiah , who later on became CAG(Comptroller and Auditor General) of India. Though the book does indicate that Somiah was an honest civil servant , yet his continuous rise in career to the top in civil service despite his honesty , does not really prove the title of the book right; on the contrary , you begin to get curious .
Somiah was no doubt honest , hardworking civil servant who believed in shouldering responsibility. He joined the IAS in 1953 (Orissa cadre) and was Home Secretary of India during the years when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India.He wrote this book after reaching the age of seventy five , out of his memory as he “never kept any notes”. He dedicated this book to “the dwindling band of honest officers who are battling heavy odds to maintain their integrity and dignity to extend corruption-free good governance to the people of India. They need all our support.”Unfortunately , the book was published in July , 2010 and Somaiah died at the age of seventy nine on September13,2010 .
As Secretary , Forests and Cooperatives , Orissa , he was asked by the Chief Minister , and Forest Minister to give a proposal for giving remission and relief in the lease rent in the final year of three years lease to the kendu leaf contractors. He refused to do this as it was a move to make money by the CM by sacrificing the revenue of the State. Within fifteen days, he was transferred to Cuttack as Excise Commissioner. Even as Excise Commissioner , to break the cartel of excise contractors , he put certain units to retendering .He was asked to cancel the retendering which he refused. He was transferred abruptly to Delhi as Director , Budget in the Finance Division of the Ministry of Defence. The CM also recorded scathing adverse remarks in the character roll of Somiah.As a result , Somiah was not included in the panel for Joint Secretaries for two years. This resulted in a loss of promotion for two years.
He was Joint Secretary Home during emergency .After this, he returned to the state and became Chairman of Forest Corporation and then Home Secretary of Orissa. In November , 1980 , he became Additional Secretary , Finance in Government of India. Then he became Secretary , Department of Company Affairs. He was shifted to Secretary , Planning Commission, where he got in close touch with Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India. He joined as Home Secretary , Government of India in June , 1986.He found that both his telephones in his office were bugged on the orders of the Director , IB.
He chose KPS Gill , an IPS officer of Assam cadre to serve as a deputy to Julius Ribeiro to help him fight the growing menace of terrorism in Punjab. Later , Gill succeeded Ribeiro as DGP of Punjab and had phenomenal success in eliminating terrorism in Punjab . Somiah played a critical role in the success of operation Black Thunder in Golden Temple , Amritsar when terrorists surrendered and were taken into custody.
In solving the issue of Gorkhaland , Somiah played a crucial role and was instrumental in creating an autonomous Darjeeling hill council for the hill areas of Daejeeling , Kurseong ,Kalimpong and part of Siliguri.This came to be known as Darjeeling Accord and solved the issues of of Gorkhaland.
However , Somiah did not like Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to circumvent the Supreme Court judgment in Shah Bano’s case by getting enacted in Parliament in May ,1986 the Muslim Women (Protection of rights on divorce) Act.”I was getting sick of my work and the long hours I used to keep in office and I felt I needed a change”. And the change came .Somiah got permission to visit Egypt and Greece for three weeks .
Regarding Salman Rushdie’s Satanic verses , Somiah writes:”I read Satanic Verses and came to the conclusion that the book needs to be banned in the interest of maintaining law and order in the country”.After taking legal opinion , the book was banned in India.
Somiah believed in astrology , though he wrote that had no desire to know his future. He recalls how TN Seshan was an astrologer. How Peri shastri , the then chief Election Commissioner was offered governorship if he acceded to the Prime Minister’S(Rajiv Gandhi’s) request to postpone the Presidential election after Zail Singh completed his term. Peri shastri firmly refused the inducement and quietly slipped into retirement.
After demitting the office as Home Secretary , Somiah took charge as the Central Vigilance Commissioner. His successor Kalyanakrishnan was sacked from his job when he missed out reading just two lines of the Intelligence report where there was a hint that an attempt would be made to kidnap the daughter of Syed Mufti Mohammad, the Home Minister. The kidnapping did take place but home department had not taken any preventive action .
Somiah was sworn in as the Comptroller and Auditor general of India by the President on 15 March , 1990.On 22 May , 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. On 11 March ,1996, when he turned sixty five, Somiah handed over charge to his successor , Vijay Shungloo. CG Somiah died on 13 September, 2010 at the age of 79 years. One cannot fail to be impressed by Somiah’s humility, integrity and professionalism .
There can be two interpretations to Somiah”s story in this book. One is that despite wide spread corruption in India’s Political –administrative system , it is possible for a civil servant to stay honest and still reach the top. The other is that you can be honest in your own limited way way and if luck favours you , you can reach the top. I for one , subscribe to the second interpretation .