Mr Ranjan Chatterjee speaks about his Desire to be Known as a Humane Administrator and on his experience serving in the Indian Government Spanning over Four Decade.
He is being interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Stuti Dwivedy who is currently pursuing law from NLUJAA.
- Before proceeding further with the interview, would you please take a moment to tell our readers about yourself and your journey as a student of Hindu College to the expert member of the NGT?
When I joined Hindu College in 1969, I was pretty much clear that I had to write the civil services exam. The route was tortuous as there were a couple of impediments in my way back then and I had to work extremely hard to prove my mettle. I came from a quintessential middle-class family and I was a recipient of merit-cum-means scholarship during my undergraduate degree. I fondly remember, the best thing about Hindu College was its huge library, full of resourceful and brilliant books and other materials. It used to open twelve hours a day, so that got me into the habit of reading extensively. In the library I could read my textbooks, reference books and some fiction. Our teachers were experts in their respective fields, including Dr N.C. Agarwal, Dr Mrs Satya Rai, Mr Nand Lal, Mr Harish Khare and Dr B.M. Bhatia, an eminent economist, was our principal.
In my spare time, I went for long walks and jogging. Nirad C. Chaudhuri, a great historian, had once said that “If you walk fast there is some purpose in life.” Apart from being a topper of my batch for all three years, I was also a champion of 100 and 200m race. My mother was a hard taskmaster, in fact both my parents were quite proactive. In my final year I was editor of the college magazine Indraprastha.
Even in my masters I was a rank holder in Delhi University. After my postgraduation I was selected for a lectureship in Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University in 1975. Thereafter I joined RBI, as a Grade B officer. Soon after in 1976, I made it to Indian Administrative Services in my first attempt itself without any coaching or external support. My papers were international law, political science and British history.
I was allotted the Assam-Meghalaya Cadre and I found it a wonderful place to work in. Till today, I am greatly enamoured by the mighty Brahmaputra River and I totally fell in love with the north-eastern culture and the people. I was the District Magistrate of three districts during the years of ethnic violence. Getting the trust of my employees and citizens was key to my success. I remember flood relief programs were an important part of my job at that time.
In 1991, I was selected for a fellowship at the London School of Economics in social policy and planning in developing countries. In 2007, I pursued my LLB degree, from Delhi University by attending evening classes. It was like a dream come true as my late father always wanted me to have a degree in law. So it would not be incorrect to say that it was a pretty long journey, with a lot of hard work and of course some luck.
My first posting in the Government of India was as a Deputy Secretary, Department of Personnel. I was appointed as the head of a committee with the major task to encourage women to join civil services. Being Chairman of the Airports Authority of India was quite challenging and then being Chief Secretary of Meghalaya was quite rewarding as I had an opportunity to open IIM, NIFT and Public Health Foundation of India in Shillong. While I was a consultant at the Planning Commission we worked tirelessly for the tribal people of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Jharkhand under the guidance of Dr Kasturirangan. In 2012, I was selected as an expert member in the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Sitting on the Bench with former Supreme Court and High Court Judges was a humbling experience.
- You have donned different hats in form of the Joint Secretary of Ministry of Civil Aviation and at the Ministry of Defence then the Executive Director of the India Trade Promotion Organisation , you then subsequently became the Chief Secretary of the Government of Meghalaya, you later on joined as a consultant at the Planning Commission and finally as an expert member of the National Green Tribunal, so how different were each of those roles and in your opinion which was the most challenging one?
All of the roles were very different, I personally took every assignment as a challenge, at the end integrity and hard work paid off. I realised that a lot of people accepted my sincerity and they were generous enough to overlook one’s mistakes.
- Do you think this time of pandemic has made a substantial delay and declined the activity rate of the functioning of various government agencies and organisations?
The pandemic has thrown up some new challenges. Human life has been in peril just like the wartimes, our preparedness and faith in science has been questioned. These days there is no bush to hide behind. The risk to human life is critical and treacherous. There has not only been an unprecedented fall in productivity of the people but also our Indian economy has faced a major setback particularly the infrastructure of the informal sector. But our only piece of consolation is that the rest of the world too has shared the same fate and the global economy in large has deteriorated.
- How much do you think legal education and legal awareness has evolved since the time you were a student of law? According to you, what is the biggest loophole in the contemporary legal education system?
Today legal education has expanded exponentially, laws and regulations are there in all walks of life. only the most sincere, well read, efficient and precocious can survive. While the law schools have emerged as the temples of composite education, there is need for both the students and the teachers to be well versed not just in the legal literature but also expanding their knowledge into practical fields as well. Both the law firms and courtrooms are very demanding. I used to enjoy arguments in the courts. To me it was like music and listening to it and bracing myself with it was an art.
- What were the best moments and regrets of your career?
The best moments of my service were in Assam and Meghalaya. The mighty Brahmaputra was a great inspiration. The connection with the simple people was blissful, it was then when I realised a crucial difference between “service” and a cushy job. Dealing with the Chief Minister was a two-way learning process, I could tell him in private if he did something wrong or against the rules, we would both get into trouble so he would simply retract with a smile. He could similarly talk with frankly with me.
My biggest regret was the unfortunate mid-air collision on 12-11-1996, when a Saudi Arabian flight collided with a Kazakh airline flight leading to 349 fatalities over Charkhi Dadri in Haryana. Even though it was caused by pilot’s error and misjudgment, I being the Chairman of Airports Authority of India back then felt agonised as a human being because of this distressing event.
- So at this point of time, when you look back at the trajectory of your life, how would you like to be seen or known?
I would like to be known as a humane administrator who was happy to listen and be fair. It gave me immense joy when I visited some villages, which were the first time visited by a District Magistrate since the independence of India.
- What are the other areas that interest you as a person?
I am an avid reader, and reading still remains my passion.
- One particular thing that you have always wanted to do but could not do owing to your hectic round the clock job schedule?
Writing about my experiences is something that I have not been able to do partly because of my hectic schedule and partly because of my lethargy.
- Any tips for the law students who want to pursue civil services or judiciary?
Law students need to be more aware in general, because the competition is indeed very tough today compared to the past. But the positive aspect of this is that women are proactively entering both these fields in larger manifolds. So it is very likely that with the advent of more women into administrative and judicial fields, the gender bias will certainly reduce in the future and our country will be a much safer, accepting and an equitable place for each and every person irrespective of their caste, colour or sexual orientation. I firmly believe that atrocities and crimes against all sexes should be condemned and taper off overtime.
- Lastly, any parting message for our readers?
On a concluding note, my last piece of advice to everyone who is reading this is to follow your instincts and dream, then work hard endlessly to turn those dreams into reality. Let a bit of spirituality always anchor you in the right direction. It may be Bhagwan, Allah, Jesus or Guru Nanak, you need to have faith. If your thoughts, actions and words are in synchronisation, no power on earth can stop you.