‘Don’t lose heart. Always trust the education you have ‘
Anirudh Sravan is currently Commissioner of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) at the Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Karnataka. He is also the special officer in charge of establishing the new district of Vijayanagar.
During her previous terms as CEO Zilla Panchayat in Kalaburagi, her efforts to effectively implement the MGNREGS were widely recognized and appreciated. Sravan’s transparent working style and his efforts to work for the well-being of the community have also earned him the nickname “officer of the people”.
Sravan speaks with DH Prajwal Suvarna to offer some perspectives on entering public service and life since then.
What made you choose the public service?
My parents played a very important role in my motivation to enter the public service. I’ve always thought that one should work for the greater good and that utilities are a good platform for the same.
I studied civil engineering at BITS Pilani, Rajasthan and most of the people around me were either getting an MBA or going for graduate studies in the United States. I did not find any of these career paths fascinating. After I graduated I worked in an IT company and also volunteered in an NGO in Hyderabad. My parents and my older brother helped me make the decision to pursue a career in public service.
How do you prepare for the exams?
One approach is to be very clinical in choosing the right optional scoring topic, reading the right books and journals, and practicing writing responses. The second part is to align your interest with the exam. Choose an option you like. Don’t get into psychology or sociology if you don’t have the training or inclination for it.
I would say that applicants should always be confident in their aptitude for a topic and enjoy reading. Read newspapers, magazines, good non-fiction books and educate yourself. I chose geography and public administration as an option. However, aspirants must now attempt only one option.
Are Coaching Classes Helpful?
Coaching is not something I would say bad, I took it and enjoyed it, but I choose wisely. There are too many people offering coaching.
Above all, you have to try to finance your own education. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, try to fend for yourself and become financially independent. I see a lot of people try after try and the parents sell land or take out loans to fund it. This, I think, is not desirable.
In my case, after my first attempt at the exam, I joined as Deputy Director at NABARD, Guwahati, Assam. I accepted the position because it was the only government funded development bank and it was a sector that interested me.
I was working in Guwahati when I wrote my second attempt. My UPSC interview focused entirely on my work in Assam. On the second attempt I got 13th rank (All India) and was assigned to the Karnataka frame.
What does your average working day look like?
At the moment, since I have two offices, it is a bit unpredictable and tiring. I have to work from Bangalore and also do the other work from Hospet (for Vijayanagar) and sometimes it continues until late in the evening.
Working in the districts as District Commissioner or CEO Zilla Panchayat was difficult due to the working hours. My days were long. As a DC in Chikkaballapura, I really enjoyed the work and learned a lot about the place and its unique challenges.
Sometimes a day would start at 7 a.m. with field trips and end at 9 p.m. An average day would be 10 to 12 hours of work. However, I enjoy my job.
Are there other challenges you face? Is there still a conflict with ministers?
There is not always a conflict, in my experience. There are bound to be disagreements, but I wouldn’t call it a conflict. I think I also learned a lot about the public service from public officials. Fortunately, I have not been in a situation of long term conflict.
There were a few challenges I faced in ZP Kalaburagi. The first few days were tough, but after a few months the challenges were gone. I learned a lot from these interactions and had very supportive seniors on duty who guided me.
We feel that there is always a resistance to change in any system, and a reluctance to go against received ideas. And doing something new takes time. In my case, it took six or seven months for our efforts to effectively implement the MNREGS to bear fruit.
Is Work-Life Balance a Challenge?
I’m still learning to balance and can’t offer advice! I have tried to achieve a balance and I try to make a constant effort to balance. I appreciate the way my wife is able to do this despite the demands of her profession. (Isha Pant, who is an IPS officer in Bangalore).
As DCP, Southeast Division, she was required, like other police personnel, to be present 24/7. There was no vacation. There is no Diwali or New Years because people are on the streets and you have to provide security. I always appreciate how she was able to effectively carry out her duties and still devote time to our daughter.
Whenever we have time, we always try to take a break and go on vacation. My parents and Isha’s parents are always there for us. It is the greatest blessing for a working couple like us.
What other interests do you have besides work?
I like to read. Now I read the works of Chimamanda Adiche. I read Americanah, Dear Ijeawele Last year. Now i read the Something around your neck. I like books on history, science, geography and botany. Lately I’ve been reading books about plants and nature. There’s this brilliant book by David Haskell called The invisible forest.
I also read books in Telugu. Telugu is my mother tongue and I read short stories because they don’t take time. I also love music and art. Every now and then I try to paint.
I don’t have as much time as I would like, but I am trying to adjust to these hobbies. I used to follow tennis but not recently. I spend time with my daughter and my family.
Was learning Kannada a challenge?
Initially, the language was a bit of a challenge. But I am fluent in Telugu and know a little Tamil. I was trained at Kannada in Mysore by a wonderful teacher, Mr. Pradhan Gurudatta. I think he is a famous translator of many Hindi books into Kannada. He taught us Kannada, very patiently. It was the lyric Mysore Kannada. And then I go to Ballari and find people speaking in a totally different dialect. And sometimes, understanding the context of the language becomes important.
But I went through a lot of Kannada newspapers, like Prajavani, which I continue to read. It helped me take Kannada.
Can you tell us a bit about the importance of communication?
I’ve been on Twitter for a year now. I had been reluctant, but communicating effectively is something I learned from my elders in the Rural Development Department and Panchayati Raj and benefited from it. We have contacted several experts online and there are people who have a lot of suggestions. Complaints have been filed on social networks. It also helps us in our work.
A lot of people, even in the public service, have a lot of passion for their jobs. In this way, social media helps to find people with similar interests in different fields.
One last tip?
To UPSC aspirants, I would say they shouldn’t ignore their professional credentials. Once people have a professional degree, they should still be working. Working in a professional environment can help develop many skills. In addition, applicants should focus on their physical and mental well-being. In the age of information and social media, it’s important to stay focused. It is therefore important to develop hobbies and play sports, they can help to gain perspective and focus in life.
There are more than three lakhs who pass the UPSC exams, but only a thousand people pass. Of that number, those who enter the IAS are perhaps around 150 each year. And out of that, there are people who have frames that they don’t like and all these questions. The story is not just about the 1,000 who did it, but the two lakh plus aspirants who didn’t.
In case you can’t do it, don’t be discouraged. Always trust the education and professional skills you have. Not going through the civil service is not the end. Life is a journey, not a destination. We must enjoy the trip.
(Path to Civils is a bimonthly series featuring interviews with exemplary public service officers who share their perspectives on exam preparation and working in the public service)