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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 39, New Delhi, September 12, 2020

In Memory of B N Yugandhar | L Mishra

Friday 11 September 2020


"B N Yugandhar whom I knew-a few sweet recollections on the occasion of his first death anniversary (13.09.20)."

This is a humble tribute to the memory of late B N Yugandhar (IAS RR AP Cadre 1962) with whom I had spent some of my most productive and memorable years in civil service (notably 90s and beyond till he breathed his last on 13.09.19). I was Secretary, Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) in the rank and pay of an Addl. Secy. to Govt. of India from 11.04.1993.One morning towards the close of December’ 93 I received a call from the office of then Cabinet Secretary- Md. Jafar Saifulla that I have to meet CS urgently. I went on the next day to the office of CS being unaware of the purpose for which I was summoned by the senior-most civil servant of the country. In course of the informal chat which followed I came to know that the post of DG, CAPART (Council for Advancement of Rural Action and Technology) which was in the rank and pay of a Secretary to Govt. of India was to be filled up on a regular basis (Sri B N Yugandhar, then Spl Secy to Govt., Ministry of RD was holding additional charge of the post from 26.08.93 till date) and that CS was on the look out for a suitable incumbent and that was the purpose for which I had been summoned.

The informal chart covered a wide ground such as the mandate of CAPART, my vision of CAPART, my experience of working with Voluntary Organisations (VOLAGs) as DG, NLMA/JS, MHRD and if selected and appointed to the post, what strategy is to be adopted to carry the mandate of CAPART forward and so on.

Human life is full of surprises. This was one of those rare surprises when within barely a week I received orders of my appointment as DG, CAPART and ex-officio Addl. Secy to GOI(the post had been temporarily downgraded to the rank of Addl. Secy to have me appointed to the post as I was not yet due to be a Secy). I assumed charge as DG, CAPART on 06.01.94.

Thus began a new chapter in my life of thinking, planning and acting together for a common cause i.e. promotion of voluntarism for public good with Sri B N Yugandhar who was elevated a few days later to the position of Secy, Ministry of RD, GOI.

By then Sri Yugandhar had built up a formidable reputation for his innovative ideas and constructive action(linking Hyderabad to Secunderabad in 70s), his down-to-earth pro-people, pro-poor, pro-Nature and pro-women approach and deep commitment with a glorious scroll of achievement in whatever position he held at the national and international level.

It is rather difficult to objectively assess an individual who is at once a brilliant scholar of economics, an exemplar communicator, ever flowing with fertile and innovative ideas, who is crystal clear and level headed in his perception, commitment and action, who was far ahead of his times and who at the same time was a candid, forthright, no-nonsense, business-like, un-assuming and totally dedicated to the cause of the deprived, marginalised and dis-advantaged victims of poverty, exploitation and bondage.

This piece is an humble and sincere attempt to delineate a few facets of the contribution made by Sri Yugandhar in various phases (of human development) during the four decades of his civil and public services career(1962-2009) as objectively and dis-passionately as possible.

  • Sri B N Yugandhar as a messiah of the poor
    He had a perfect understanding of
    • who constitute the poor in India; need for mapping out the poor as professionally as possible;
    • what are the characteristics of poor households;
    • prioritising the typology for poverty elimination(as different from mere alleviation);
    • He had simultaneously a penetrating insight into the fundamental causes responsible for poverty in India such as:
    • Persistence of socio-political and socio-economic power imbalance;
    • Missing a common bond of citizenship among all citizens of India regardless of class, caste, clan, sect, faith, belief and ideology;
    • Absence of community-based organisations, participative and communicative platforms and prevalence of an extremely narrrow ambit of «blind» justice (more of «neeti» and less of «nyaya» as appropriately put by Prof. Amartya Sen in his seminal work" The Idea of Justice"(2009).

 As very rightly advocated by him, the genuine issues facing the lives of the poor cannot be effectively addressed unless the long persisting gaps and imbalances are removed. He notes with regret that there are barely one or two legislations which satisfy the principles of social justice, human rights, responsive and accountable governance; these are never implemented properly or implemented at all. All other laws related to education, children’s rights, right to employment and right to social security are either un-implementable or not implemented at all.

He has candidly stated that the Un-organised Social Security Act, 2008 which was in response to Prof. Arjun Sengupta led NCEU’s proposals ended up as a farce showing the total unwillingness of the Centre and the States to shoulder the responsibility to provide social protection to the «toiling masses». It does not provide for a national minimum entitlements and services for the 400 million+ un-organised workers within a definite time frame and this is precisely the reason as to why all central trade unions had outright rejected the legislation.

He, therefore, vehemently pleaded for a social protection floor as a minimum social security cover for every citizen as an effective anti-dote to pauperisation and destitution.

  • Sri B N Yugandhar as an un-compromising champion of total eradication of the abominable bonded labour system
    As Special Assst. to late P N Haksar, then Dy Chairman, Planning Commission (1971-76), Sri Yugandhar had played a memorable role in getting elimination of bonded labour system included as item no 4 in the «New Economic Programme» announced to the nation on 01.07.75 by then PM — Smt. Indira Gandhi followed by issue of an Ordinance on 25.10.75 which got converted in to a law ie Bonded Labour System(abolition) Act on 09.02.76.

Twelve years later, as Director, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussourie, he made the following seminal contribution:

    • As Chairman of a sub-committee on bonded labour constituted by the National Commission on Un-organised Labour(1987-91), he had submitted proposals for amendment of a few sections of BLS(A) Act which , if accepted and implemented, would have made the law simpler and capable of being implemented much better than now.;
    • At the behest of the Chairman of the Commission-Dr C H Hanumanth Rao, he got a Cell opened in the LBSNAA, Musssourie to exclusively deal with the menace of bonded labour system; the said Cell did pioneering work under his leadership and direction in an incredibly short span of 2 years the details of which are as under:
    • On the basis of action research the Cell brought out the following comprehensive study reports such as:
    • Study report on bonded labour Vol i-incidence of bonded labour system in India-area, nature and extent Part i and Part ii, November, 1990;
    • Study report on bonded labour Vol ii---release and rehabilitation, Novembeer, 1990;
    • Study report on bonded labour Vol iii- summary of study reports and draft recommendations;
    • Study report on bonded labour Vol iv-bibliography and directory,Novembeer,1990;
    • Study report on bonded labour Vol v-anthology of Act and Rules, Novembeer, 1990.
  • These 5 voluminous compendia are remarkable in terms of their professional thoroughness and remain valuable reference materials till date.

Sri Yugandhar carried this process forward by devising an institutional arrangement through which IAS probationers in course of their village attachment had to carry out surveys for identification and enumeration of victims of boned labour system. This was a very timely, appropriate and splendid innovation as (a) the IAS probationers of today are the Collectors and DMs of tomorrow and (b) the experience of village attachment and conducting surveys for identification of the victims of the age-old pernicious system would come quite handy for them when they exercise their powers as DM u/s 10, 11 and 12 of BLS(A) Act, 1976.

  • Sri B N Yugandhar as a key architect of land reforms and prevention of tribal land alienation.
    In April,20000 he chaired an Expert Group constituted by the GOI to carry out an in-depth analysis of the problems relating to alienation of tribal land. The report submitted by him as Chairman of the Group is remarkable in terms of its in-depth understanding of the various dimensions of the problem of tribal land alienation, scintillating analysis of the problem and recommendations with far reaching implications to carry the process of empowerment of tribal communities through removal of their landlessness. The various dimensions of the problem of tribal land alienation have been competently listed in the report as under:
  • Land records in tribal areas are not up-to-date; they need to be up-dated and correct up-to-date entries need to be made in the Record-of-Rights(ROR);
  • Institutional mechanisms are conspicuous by their absence to ensure that the process of up-dating the RORs is carried out with full involvement of tribal communities;
  • There is no survey to establish the rights of tribal communities and people on the land which they possess and the resources which they have been using for years;
  • The task of verification of titles and lands under possession tribals and non-tribals alike has not received any priority attention;
  • In each village, there should be a configuration of different categories of lands belonging to tribals, non-tribals and tribal lands under occupation of non-tribals. Such configuration with the help of a map and its contents should be shared with the inhabitants of the village and in particular, with the members of the tribal community. This would greatly help in identifying the status of the occupiers of different types of govt. land and in setting in motion the relevant provisions of law for restoration of land to their rightful owners;
  • In a number of instances, the lands cultivated by the tribals or under occupation and use of tribal communities particularly those on hill-tops have been wrongly recorded in the name of govt. or some other agency on account of faulty techniques of cadastral survey and mistaken notions of survey and settlement personnel;
  • It is imperative that all such wrong recordings are corrected without any loss of time, orientation and training are imparted to the survey and settlement personnel about tribal land management system and customary laws so that their ill-perceived notions about members of tribal communities are dispelled;
  • Most of the States have not enacted any legislation to prevent alienation of tribal land and its simultaneous restoration to the rightful owners without any loss of time by the competent authority. This process which is a Constitutional imperative brooks no delay;
  • Even though States like Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra have enacted such a law,the track record of their enforcement is extremely poor. Sizeable extent of tribal land continues to be under occupation of non-tribals. The pace and progress of disposal of proceedings for restoration of land to the custody of their rightful owners have been extremely tardy;
  • It is urgent and imperative that a country wide census to identify persons who do not belong to any ST and yet who own land in scheduled areas. Such a census would un-earth as to how these non-tribals came and acquired ownership of land in tribal areas i.e. by purchase, transfer, lease, mortgage etc;
  • There is need for definitional clarity. To illustrate, the definition of transfer in the existing law is quite mis-leading. Transfer should include the transfer of title as well as transfer of possession, enjoyment of usufruct from the land to make transfer total which is not the case in the present law.
    The recommendations made by the Expert Group under the Chairmanship of Sri Yugandhar, keeping the above dimensions in view, are path-breaking such as:
  • Ways and means should be found to ensure complete prevention of tribal land alienation;
  • Ways and means should be found to ensure timely and effective restoration of title and possession;
  • There should be a complete ban on alienation of tribal land for any purpose whatsoever;
  • There should be a complete ban on all transactions in land between tribals and non-tribals;
  • A new law should be enacted for full and effective restoration of alienated land belonging to members of ST community irrespective of the period of limitation and without payment of
  • any compensation;
  • Similarly, another law should be enacted which shall make it incumbent on all the Registrars/Sub-Registrars appointed by the Govt under Indian Registration Act, 1908 to ensure the following:
  • No provision of any law, circular or instruction in force concerning transfer or alienation of such land has been violated before registering a document(involving transfer or alienation of such land or demise of right over any land of a person belonging to ST).
    Being fully conscious of the fact that most of the States would be reluctant to go in for such stringent and deterrent measures, the Expert Group urged enactment by Parliament an enabling legislation regarding alienation of land belonging to the members of the ST community. This is by virtue of the powers vested in the Union Govt. under the Fifth Schedule and Art. 249 of the Constitution.
  • Sri B N Yugandhar as the principal promoter of «Long term Action Plan for development of Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput (KBK) region»
    KBK region of South-western Odisha is economically one of the most backward in the country characterised by low-end poverty, distress migration, child labour, sale of children, bonded labour, trafficking of girls and women, unemployment, under-employment, poor quality of employment, low income, low levels of literacy and numeracy, perilously low levels of literacy and awareness among tribal women, hunger, starvation, malnutrition and high levels of infant, child and maternal mortality. Un-planned, un-regulated and unbridled exploitation of natural resources, in-adequate and in-effective conservation measures have been responsible for substantial imbalance in the ecological map of the region. Imbalances have also arisen on account of factors like denudation of forests, farming of crops on marginal and sub-marginal lands and slopes resulting in surface run-off of land and extensive soil erosion leading to a low production base with extremely low productivity. Such ecological imbalance has given rise to imbalances in climate, temperature and rainfall, the latter being extremely scanty, erratic and unevenly distributed.

The backwardness of the region is fundamental and multi-dimensional characterised by

  •  Tribal backwardness;
  •  Hill area backwardness;
  •  Drought-prone area backwardness.

Such backwardness is the outcome of years of lop-sided planning and accumulated neglect which prompted the noted journalist, social activist and Magayasese award winner P. Sainath write his much acclaimed work «Why everybody loves a drought». Multiple strategies are no doubt needed to address the multiple concerns and dilemmas of development afflicting the region. No proper strategy to grapple with and overcome the mind-boggling problems is,however, possible without an in-depth understanding thereof which again is not possible without intensively touring the region. After then Prime Minister, late Indira Gandhi to Balangir at the height of drought in 1966, followed by then PM, late Rajiv Gandhi to Kalahandi in 1988 and followed by then PM, late P V Narasimha Rao to Koraput in 1994, late B N Yugandhar is the only senior official in the rank of a Secretary to GOI who paid 2 visits to the region, first in November,1994 and second in July, 1995, met the Collectors and DMs of all the 30 districts(including those of 8 KBK districts), Project Directors of DRDAs, Secretaries of all development deptts of the State govt, CS,CM and a few selected NGOs of the region to share some of his brilliant insights about ways and means of bringing about a total transformation in the geography and topography of poverty and denudation in the region. After thoroughly studying the landscape, patterns of rainfall, extent of denudation and cropping pattern, he was firmly of the view that integrated watershed planning, management and development for prevention of run-off, massive soil erosion, conservation of soil moisture and soil fertility for high productivity of land on the Ralegaon Siddhi model of well-known social activist- Anna Hazare was one of the most effective answers to the problem of low-end poverty and backwardness of the region. The «Long term Action Plan for a holistic development of the region» which had been drafted by me after extensive and intensive tour of the region and making night-halts continuously for a fortnight in the region as the Development Commissioner of the State was fine-tuned and substantially modified in the light of very sound and sensible suggestions of Sri Yugandhar which had the touch of a visionary.

  • Sri B N Yugandhar as a promoter of voluntarism in social action
    The general impression which an impassioned observer obtains after closely observing the current ground-level scenario is as under:
  • Despite un-remitting efforts on the part of Govt., the fruits and benefits of all poverty alleviation and employment generation initiatives did not uniformly benefit the rural poor;
  • Those who belonged to the upper strata of the society, who were rich, resourceful and influential and who had access to and command over natural resources reaped un-merited benefits from these programmes which were not meant for them;
  • Those who were in the lowest rung of the social ladder did not, for understandable reasons, have access to those inputs and resources and could not, therefore, reap the benefit of planned development process.
    There are three important questions raised in the context of such imbalance in easy accessibility to and even distribution of the fruits and benefits of development by the rich visa-vis the poor. The questions are:
    • Can the State assume the gigantic responsibility of bridging the huge development gap entirely on its own shoulders?
    • Does the State have thousand eyes to maintain a vigil round-the clock over what is happening on the ground and in particular, in remote, interior and inaccessible areas?
    • Can the State assume its out-reach to all sections of the heterogenous and stratified society in an equitable measure and fulfil their genuine basic needs, hopes and aspirations ?
      According to Sri Yugandhar, the answer to these searching questions is not entirely in the affirmative; this is on account of the following reasons:
  • The State under the most ideal conditions will be constrained in terms of both out-reach as well as resources.
  • There will be too many competing claims on the limited time, energy and resources of the State, so much so that prioritisation of these claims becomes a mind-boggling problem.
  • There are abnormal situations characterised by crises like man-made and natural disasters which consume an enormous amount of time , energy and resources of the State leaving little time for bridging development gaps.
    Sri Yugandhar always thought, felt and believed that VOLAGs and in particular, those who work in remote, interior and in-accessible areas without any creature comforts for the benefit of those who are truly poor, deprived, displaced, marginalized`22 and acutely dis-advantaged can ably supplement and complement the initiatives of Govt. Such VOLAGs, according to him are neither the contractors of Govt, nor are they competitors of Govt and far less the substitutes of governmental action. The complementing and supplementing role can be effectively played by such VOLAGs for the following reasons:
  • They work for and with people at the grass root level and have the pulse of the people in their fingers;
  • They have flexibility of structure and operations which greatly facilitate the decision making process with expedition and speed;
  • They are not inhibited by bureaucratic constraints, procedural hasssles and other hang-ups which delay and defeat the decision making process;
  • There is an element of democratic participation of the community(for whose good the VOLAGs often work) in formulation of plans as also their implementation which impart a participative and communicative character to all operations.
    The three strategies which Sri Yugandhar attached the highest importance in eradication of poverty, removal of gaps and imbalances in sharing the gains of development and promotion of equality and equity in various layers of the society fragmented by class, caste, clan, sect, faith and belief, gender and ideology may be summed up as under:
  • Organising the un-organised/un-unionised for social justice and equity;
  • Simultaneously, integrating education and skill (life skills, communication skills, survival skills, leadership skills, entrepreneurial, managerial and supervisory skills), training to empower the landless, assetless and resourceless and weaving a number of economic activities related to land management, employment,, housing, health, medical care, immunisation, nutrition, environmental sanitation and personal hygiene so that the poor can lead a clean ,healthy and congenial existence;
  • Social mobilisation-creation of a positive environment and generation of a natural and spontaneous demand for a particular product of development (literacy, education, public health, potable water, personal hygiene, environmental sanitation, clean energy through solar power, smokeless cooking to reduce the drudgery of women, agriculture, horticulture, pisciculture, sericulture, animal husbandry etc ) so that the delivery mechanism , as and when provided, becomes truly meaningful , productive and efficient;
  • Promoting responsiveness and accountability in governance at all levels tempered by empathy and sensitivity for the common man.
  • Building up an institutional mechanism at all levels and in particular, at the grass-root level for maintaining round-the-clock vigilance and surveillance so that(a) scarce resources are not frittered away(b) leakage and wastage in the functioning of the delivery mechanism are reduced to zero (c) the hitherto effete, un-responsive and insensitive delivery mechanism is made positive, responsive, effective and a tool of State affirmative action.

At the end of this rather long discourse, I would be failing in my duty if I did not refer to some of the seminal qualities of head and heart of Sri B N Yugandhar which distinguished him from other bureaucrats. To start with, and as per his own admission on more than one occasion, it may be stated that through over a quarter-century of his association with late S R Sankaran (1957 RR A.P. cadre), a legendary human being, a champion of people’s rights and causes that mattered, he was greatly inspired and motivated by the latter. Like Sri Sankaran, he was passionate about the rights such as equality, equity, social justice, freedom and dignity of the marginalised sections of the society.

Secondly, even though he was un-conventional and un-orthodox, he was not foot-loose or un-structured but highly organised in thought and action.

Thirdly, he was quite firm and decisive and always believed in doing the right things at the right time and in the right manner. He was firmly of the view that dithering and vacillation do not help and with procrastination, not only the cause is lost but even gifts which are otherwise legitimate entitlements of the poor become graceless.

Fourthly, there was no closefistedness in his character and personality; they were totally open and transparent as broad daylight.

I would illustrate this point with a real-life example. Sri Yugandhar was instrumental in shifting the office of CAPART which till Jan’94 was functioning in a dark and dingy corner of dust-laden Pankha Road in West Delhi to a commodious space in India Habitat Center, not so much for physical comfort or a congenial work environment of the functionaries(although they also matter in terms of high productivity)which IHC provided in an abundant measure but keeping the Lakhina model in view( Padmasree A K Lakhina was Collector, Ahmednagar in 1981 when he carved out a model public office where everything will be open and above board, no scope for hush-hush deals but total transparency in all transactions and is remembered even today for this seminal contribution). As DG, CAPART,I was instrumental in translating his vision to concrete action. The entire sitting arrangement was converted to wooden cubicles so that sitting and working in one room one will be visible to the other person sitting and working in the next room. That would promote total openness and would bring a lot of probity and rectitude in functioning.

Fifthly, he believed in delegation and decentralisation as effective tools of management to weed out corruption in the functioning of public offices. CAPART head office was at Delhi; it had no regional offices and all proposals were to come to the head office for scrutiny and sanction. This was cumbersome and exasperating for many NGOs who had to send their proposals from far- off places and had a long waiting period to wait with bated breath for the decisions of the head office which often were not without a price. This made governance top-heavy; it promoted autocracy and was totally frustrating for the good and committed NGOs (whose number was small). In the fitness of things, Sri Yugandhar thought of breaking this stranglehold and go in for an alternative delivery mechanism which will be easily accessible and where there will be a lot of freedom and spontaneity for the grass-root level NGOs for whom the head office of CAPART at Delhi was totally un-approachable. In the process, 4 regional offices for CAPART (east, west, north and south) were created.. We scouted for talent and found out from among the NGOs themselves. Women and men of unimpeachable character, integrity with total commitment to social action were selected to head the regional offices, provide leadership and direction and a lot of assurance and reassurance to smaller and grass-root level NGOs.

Sixthly, he was full of innovative ideas which he translated to action with ease. A scheme was mooted by him and approved by the DOPT to place the services of good, committed and willing civil servants at the disposal of NGOs on deputation for a fixed period so that it could be a mutual learning experience for both. Implementation of the scheme opened up vistas of tremendous opportunities in voluntarism. It helped to de-mystify the role of civil servants moulded hitherto in a steel frame and substantially broadened their horizon of thinking, planning and action.

Seventhly, with his initiative, encouragement and support, Cells were opened in CAPART for physically, orthopaedically and visually challenged persons along with members of SC, ST and freed bonded labourers awaiting rehabilitation, gender sensitisation and empowerment, disaster management, media and communication etc. As in the earlier scheme of identifying diligent, committed and conscientious individuals with a positive and pro-active attitude and approach towards VOLAGs, there was a scouting for talent and it has been an extremely satisfying experience for both Sri Yugandhar and myself that we succeeded in having individuals with a proven track record in the field of social action to man these Cells which eventually boosted the stature, visibility and credibility of CAPART.

Sri Yugandhar had got me appointed as Chairman of 2 National level Committees such as (a) Rural Sanitation and (b) DWACRA . Since I had to leave CAPART barely after 9 months of my joining(06.01.94 to 03.10.94), I could do justice to complete the work of the first Committee and get a very comprehensive report unanimously adopted within a very short time after extensive field visits and excellent deliberations. It has been extremely gratifying to note that the campaign approach for promoting rural sanitation which was advocated in the report was accepted and implemented 2 decades later in 2014-19 through a national programme called "Swatch Bharat Abhiyan’ with extremely rich dividends.

All partings are sad and more so when there are people who speak with one voice, one energy and one conscience. This was true in our case. We had one vision, one mission and one passion throughout and that was to wipe out tears from cheerless faces, as Bapu had said. The last we met was on 11th July, 2011 when my book «Human bondage-tracing its roots in India» was being discussed in an open house organised by Prof. Muchkund Dube, former Foreign Secretary and President, Council for Social Development, New Delhi. Sri Yugandhar was invited to be one of the speakers along with late Brahmadev Sharma, late P S Krishnan, late Anil Bordia and Prof. Shanta Sinha. (Sri SR Sankaran had departed for his heavenly abode on 07.10.2010 and could not be there even though he had seen the manuscript and lauded it when he was alive). All of them are celebrities by their own right and it is difficult to precisely enumerate the seminal contribution made by them in diverse fields of social action. The kind words spoken by Sri Yugandhar on that occasion still ring through my ears. I had found him hale and hearty, full of exuberant spirits as always and had no inkling that he would fall ill soon from which he could not recover. I had conveyed through my close friend and batch-mate - Sri K B Saxena an earnest desire to come to Hyderabad to see him when he was critically ill. KB went to Hyderabad but could not meet and talk to him. A few days later in the month of September 2017 my next book "Discovery of truth and nothing but truth-memoirs of a civil servant’ was getting released and I had sent him a mail to inform him about the event as also to enquire about his health. He was prompt to reply with his greetings and best wishes and asked for a copy of the book which I promptly sent. I did not hear from him again although Justice Sri M N Venkatchaliha, former CJI and former Chairman, NHRC who was the Chief Guest at the function for release of this book at Bengaluru on 05.09.2017 informed me that a very good review from Sri Yugandhar had appeared in Deccan Chronicle. May his soul rest in peace. Deliberations after field visits and deliberations.

Author: Dr. L. Mishra, IAS (Retd.) former Union Labour Seccretary, Government of India

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