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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 6 New Delhi January 30, 2016

Tribute: Dr B.D. Sharma

Saturday 30 January 2016

by Kadayam Subramanian

My dear friend and hero, Dr B.D. Sharma, who passed away recently, was an eminent civil servant of the IAS cadre in Madhya Pradesh (MP). The State produced many an eminent and progressive civil servant and police officer.

I came to know about Dr B.D. Sharma only after I joined the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in 1979 and took up my job as the Director of the newly created Civil Rights Cell (CRC), an innovation by the then Janata Party Government in New Delhi. After about a year, I was transferred to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Division, which was later to be bifurcated into two separate Divisions, one for the Scheduled Castes and the other for the Scheduled Tribes. Dr Sharma was already a celebrated officer as the District Magistrate of the Bastar District in Madhya Pradesh for his commitment to the tribal cause and he became the Joint Secretary in charge of the Scheduled Tribes (JS ST) in the MHA when I met him for the first time and became an admirer and colleague. This position, along with that of the Joint Secretary in charge of the Scheduled Castes (JS SC), were perhaps the most important Divisions in the Ministry at that time tasked as they were with the job of ensuring justice to the weakest sections of society as intended in the Constitution of India. Later separate Commissions and Ministries were created at the Centre for these purposes although their performance has not been as good as those of the former Joint Secretaries of the MHA who discharged their functions.

Dr Sharma, as an IAS officer, was more committed to the cause of the tribal people of India than any other officer of the service that I know of dealing with the subject. P.S. Krishnan, then JS SC, was a comparable figure of comparable greatness.

Dr Sharma was thus unlike many other IAS officers in India who usually look for lucrative powerful positions in the Government of India and assignments in international organisations providing them opportunities to travel abroad and improve their career prospects. However, Dr Sharma remained steadfast in his commit-ment to the tribal people of India even when he was ill-treated because of his commitment.

Dr Sharma also held the position of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, a constitutional office in which he reported directly to the President of India. He did yeoman service to the tribal people in this capacity. The constitutional office was abolished later with the creation of two separate Commissions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Dr Sharma held the position of Vice- Chancellor of the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) situated in Shillong. The region is inhabited by a large number of tribal commu-nities. The posting was a recognition of the unique qualities possessed by Dr Sharma.

Dr Sharma was an eminent author and writer on the tribal cause and of numerous books, papers and articles advocating and supporting the tribal cause, and worked relentlessly for their organisation and mobilisation across the country to achieve development with justice for them. However, the model of development adopted in India did not mean any justice for the tribal people. As a result, they joined in large numbers the Maoist movement in the Central tribal belt including MP.

Dr Sharma was deeply disturbed by develop-ments in the Central tribal belt including several States, when the tribal people became the fighting arm of the Maoist movement. In 2010, he wrote an Open Letter to the President of India appealing to her in memorable words and noted: (i) the virtual collapse of the constitutional regime with regard to the tribal people of India, who are being attacked and suppressed in a war-like situation; (ii) the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, regarded as “the Constitution within the Constitution”, provided for the Governors of States to write an annual report to the President on the administration of the tribal areas (para 3 of the Fifth Schedule) and the giving of directions by the President but no such directions had been issued in the last 60 years; (iii) the constitutional machinery of the Tribal Advisory Council (para 4 of the Fifth Schedule) had become extinct; (iv) state power extended to the tribal areas subject to the provisions of the Fifth Schedule; (v) Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, which extended a “village republic” frame, had remained virtually unimplemented and so was the case with the Forest Rights Act, 2006; (vi) the history of broken promises, predatory administration, co-optation through faulty development programmes and unconcern at the top had led to a massive displacement and multiplication of revolts.

The letter was powerful but it received no reply.

In the year 2012, I visited Dr Sharma at his humble residence near Sarai Kalekhan in New Delhi (where he lived a humble Gandhian life) in order to discuss my ongoing research project on the North-East with him. As I awaited his arrival, a famous social activist too arrived to meet him. I had known the activist earlier and, as we waited for Dr Sharma who had gone out, I happened to ask the activist how she knew Dr Sharma. To my surprise, she replied that Dr Sharma was her guru and he had inducted her into social activism in the first place! I was amazed. Dr Sharma was indeed a great man! May his soul rest in peace!

The author, a retired IPS officer, is a former Director General of Police and a social activist.