My father used to narrate about his boss an incident, which greatly influenced me in childhood. Mr. R K Padhi was Inspector General (IG) of Police in Odisha in the early 1970s. In those days there was only one IG of Police, who was assisted by three Assistant IGs (AIG). Mr. P J Joseph was AIG-I and my father was AIG-II. On one occasion when Mr. Padhi was out of headquarters, my father and Mr. Joseph apparently misinterpreted government instructions and issued blatantly wrong directives to the embarrassment of the government. On return to headquarters, Mr. Padhi had to do the damage control. Apprehending that the government might take disciplinary action against the AIGs, he made a noting in the concerned file, directing Mr. Joseph to do what was actually done. Thereafter, Mr. Padhi wrote a letter to the Home Secretary, taking the entire blame on himself and informed that he had erred in interpreting directions. The matter was set to rest at that stage. I always cherished a dream of becoming a leader like Mr. Padhi.
I am always comfortable as a leader of teams, irrespective of their size, status or glamour. I guess I had a very non-conventional style. Many a times I was taunted for being very possessive and protective about my team members. When I was Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Dhenkanal, an elderly officer was posted as Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) having a blemished career. He also had no qualms about his tarnished reputation. He told me, “Sir, you must have heard a lot about me, but I will prove to you that I am an efficient officer, notwithstanding my reputation. Please entrust me some work, I will never give you scope to regret.” I decided to assign a major plantation work to him. He kept his promise and did a fabulous job. I rated him as a ‘very good’ officer in his Annual Confidential Report (ACR). My supervising officer was horrified, “Are you distributing laddoos? Everyone in the state knows him as a dubious person.” But I stood my ground, my logic was that I was assessing him for that particular year and he gave me no occasion to rate him otherwise.
I was posted as Principal, Forest Rangers’ College (FRC), Angul, in 1992. In those days the Principal was in the rank of DFO, but there were four posts of Instructors also in the same rank. After I joined, two very senior state service officers were posted as Instructors. They had still not got inducted into Indian Forest Service (IFS), although their training-mates in most of the states had long been promoted and many of them were senior to me. They had a serious grievance: how could they be posted below an officer, who should have been junior to them? Some of my friends thought I was better-off without them, as they were considered ‘difficult’ persons. However, I decided to persuade them to join. After a bit of coaxing, they agreed to join but pressed for certain perks and adjustments. I accommodated most of their requests and we did manage to have a workable arrangement. Contrary to the belief of many, I found them quite sincere in their work. The training schedule and quality were not compromised; the trainees had no issues, so I had nothing to complain about.
During my field postings, I preferred taking coordination meetings of subordinate offices inside forests. In my one-year tenure as Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife (PCCF-WL), I had seven DFO conferences inside sanctuaries and national parks. All of us would stay in huts and tents for two days, have the review meetings during the day and have night safari of the area in the evenings. There were several advantages which included: first, disturbance free working hours as most of the areas were out of mobile network; second, no need for rushing through the agenda items; third, better appreciation of field problems by staying right there; and fourth, opportunity to visit different sanctuaries. I can vouch that, not only our work outputs were of significantly higher order, but also everyone enjoyed these breakaway outings.
As Director General, Forests, I normally used to get the ground work done by the branch officers so that all that I had to do was, give finishing touches when the file came to me. This gave me ample space for going on field tours and directly interacting with field foresters to understand the issues from the perspective of the states.
However, I used to be a bit uncomfortable working under direct supervision. That is perhaps, why I preferred to resign as Member of National Green Tribunal to join as Chairperson of Odisha Real Estate Regulatory Authority. I was lucky that in my entire career I had not been a Number-2, in the true sense, except during my tenure as Executive Director (ED) in the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA). OSDMA, which came into being on December 30, 1999, was the first-of-its-kind organization in the country. Considering that I had been working voluntarily in post-cyclone operations, the government posted me as its first ED. In the beginning, I was the only fulltime officer of OSDMA and to my great comfort Upendra Nath Behera, a very close friend, was posted as Managing Director (MD). Upendra also held charges of Special Secretary, Finance, and Secretary, Excise, during his tenure as MD, OSDMA. It was a novel experience of working; there was no office room, no vehicle, no support staff, no Personal Assistant or Stenographer, no computer during the initial few months. Since Upendra held other substantive posts, we worked from his chamber and used the infrastructure. During the day, I would do some research and ground work and in the afternoon we both would sit together and work; we laid the foundation of OSDMA brick by brick. In about eight months, Upendra was transferred and Ajit Tripathy, a very senior officer, was posted as the MD. He was also the Finance Secretary of the State. He told me, “Siddhanta, I will be very busy as the Finance Secretary, so you have to practically run the organization. You will have two major responsibilities: First, all files which has to get my approval must be routed through you and once you have put your signature, I will presume everything is okay. Second, in the meetings if I overstep my brief, you will restrain me. But rest assured, I will take full responsibility of all your actions.” What more could I have asked for?
In the meantime, workload in OSDMA increased manifold and the government posted a fulltime MD, Dr Aurobindo Behera – a senior civil servant. As a seasoned officer he wanted to supervise my actions at every step, whereas I wanted liberty for completion of entire task before scrutiny. This led to some friction although he was quite supportive otherwise. I had several rounds of discussions with Dr Behera to convince him to give me a free hand to complete a task after which I would be open to corrections or modifications as he may desire. Dr. Behera explained, “I am a perfectionist and feel there is always scope for improvement.” Therefore, he needed to closely monitor all the developments at each and every stage. I still pleaded for a free hand during incubation period. He was gracious enough to give me the space I was craving for. During that period, we were getting the disaster management policy for the state prepared. This was a unique exercise as there was no such document to serve as reference. I had to prepare 24 drafts before Dr Behera approved it. But when I look back, it gives me tremendous satisfaction that our state is getting accolades from international agencies, including the United Nations, for our disaster management. I wish to acknowledge Dr Behera’s contribution, the finesse would not have been achieved but for his intimate indulgence. He continued as MD, OSDMA, for two years and during this period most of the fundamentally critical strategies for managing possible disasters were put in place. When N R Sanyal joined as the MD, he was happy giving me a free hand as I already had acquired sufficient acumen on disaster management issues.