The Man Who’s No Island

By and large, people still think that the IAS officers are persons endowed with strong and positive personality traits. They also believe that these officers are gifted and intelligent, studious and analytical, talented and creative, dynamic and active, quick and decisive, thorough and detail conscious, persistent and schedule-oriented, orderly and organized, neat and tidy. They vouch that IAS officers can deal with any given situation expertly and adapt themselves to any circumstances within no time, quickly identify problems and find practical solutions. They confirm that these civil servants are focused and goal oriented, competent and steady, have very rich administrative capability and exude confidence.


Most IAS officers who make it to the post of Chief Secretary, no doubt, have all these qualities in great abundance. But those who are also warm and friendly, enthusiastic and ever cheerful, pleasant and enjoyable, stoic and self-controlled, sincere at heart, and charm and inspire others to work and set high standards and see the whole picture and delegate and stimulate activity and love people as dearly as they love their own family members and have compassion and concern for all they meet, are born leaders and true Past Masters. One such retired civil servant is ARUN LAXMAN BONGIRWAR (1966), who became the twenty-fifth Chief Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra during 1999-01, served as the Chairman of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, and is presently working as Chairman of the Tariff Authority for Major Ports.


While many of us joined the IAS because it was and continues to be the best service, for Mr Bongirwar it was like following a family profession; two generations before him were wedded to the government service.

His father was in the IAS. And therefore, there was no confusion in his mind. After doing MSc (Maths) (First Class First), his goal was the competitive exam.


Like most of us, Mr Bongirwar served on the traditional posts. But he spent nearly 14 long years in the Revenue Department, from Supy to Collector to Divisional Commissioner to Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue). Collector of two Districts, Divisional Commissioner of three Revenue Divisions, Secretary / Principal Secretary to two Chief Ministers, he had no difficulty in wearing the heavy mantle of Chief Secretary.


Apart from being a die-hard bureaucrat, Mr Bongirwar is a person with many facets. Gregarious and never dull, nor dispirited even for a moment, he enlivens every gathering by his smiling presence. Surrounded by innumerable families, relatives and friends, he is always by their side, in the joyous as well as sorrowful moments, as their friend, philosopher and guide. Mad keen on the government service, he has got his both daughters and one sister married to IAS officers.


Lover of Hindi films, Marathi plays and cards, he rarely misses an invitation to play a game of Rummy and almost always wins hands down and is quick to collect cards, shuffle and distribute them even while others are still rummaging through their cards. Very swift and multi-tasking, with mind as agile as a computer, he is ever ready with solutions to problems that would baffle many others. It was therefore imperative for Harmony Editor Rameshchandra Kanade to interview this illustrious and distinguished civil servant.


RK: How do you look back at your career spanning over about 40 years?

ALB: I can say that I am happy about my career in the IAS. The service provided me many opportunities to serve the Government and people. Basically I am very comfortable in the company of people. I enjoy working with them and for them. I have always believed in team building and working together. I have enjoyed leading from the front and encouraging my colleagues and subordinates. My doors were always open to them and they too felt free to approach me any time. My educational background also must have helped me a great deal. Having studied maths, I valued precision. They say I also have good memory. I was lucky to have got long and stable innings in the field and was therefore able to interact with people at all levels and study their problems from close quarters. I believed in being pro-active and taking quick decisions. I took care to work as objectively and as dispassionately as possible and avoided getting perturbed or ruffled. And God has always been kind to me.

RK: Which was your first major posting?

ALB: I was JMD/MD of MSSIDC for about five years. I was made Collector of the erstwhile Osmanabad District in the late 70s. Then I worked as Collector of Nagpur for two years and a half. All these were major postings. In 1982 I got the suppertime scale and was posted as Municipal Commissioner of Pune. There I had to perform the unpleasant task of setting aside many orders issued against the development rules. Among many other works there, I started and successfully completed resettlement of slum-dwellers on Parvati at Bibwewadi-Dhankawadi. As if in recognition of my work, the Corporation unanimously passed resolution to continue me for the fourth year.

RK: You successfully worked as Secretary to Chief Ministers in different governments. How did you make it possible?

ALB: I was first selected by late Shri Sudhakarrao Naik to be his Secretary when he became Chief Minister of the Congress government in 1991. I continued in that capacity throughout his period up to December 1993. I was again selected by Shri Manohar Joshi in 1995 to be his Secretary soon after he became Chief Minister of the Shiv Sena-BJP Government. Thus I served two Chief Ministers belonging to different parties and ideologies. With both, I worked most diligently and impartially and thought only about the State’s welfare. I was able to streamline procedures and quicken the decision-making. I coordinated with all concerned departments and helped them solve their problems. Many projects including the flyovers in Mumbai and the Mumbai-Pune Express Highway saw the light of day during this period. I am thankful to these Chief Ministers that they liked my work and gave me the freedom to advise them frankly and fearlessly.

RK: You were made Chief Secretary by Shri Narayan Rane. What do you say about his stint as Chief Minister?

ALB: My elevation as Chief Secretary came to me as a total surprise. I was Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, and in early 1999, Shri Narayan Rane became the Chief Minister. I was shifted to Revenue Department. But within months he selected me as Chief Secretary. That surprised me. I found him very determined and resolute and quick in decision-making. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and set about doing from day one. But his period was curtailed by early ordering of general elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assembly. His party lost the elections.

RK: Your next CM was Vilasrao Deshmukh. How was your experience with him?

ALB: I had known Vilasraoji since my days as Collector of the erstwhile Osmanabad, which had included Latur. Later as Divisional Commissioner of Aurangabad Division I had frequent interactions with him and always found him to be pleasant, receptive, thoughtful and quick in understanding. He always came across as a person wanting to do a lot for the State. In October 1999 he became the new Chief Minister. It was very gracious of him that, in keeping with the best traditions of the State, he continued me as the Chief Secretary. I remained on that post up to January 2001.

RK: What are your views about today’s bureaucracy?

ALB: I think we have one of the best bureaucracies in the country. Our officers are competent and pro-people. They are sincere and hardworking. They always first think of the State’s interests. I must say that my success was because of my colleagues and subordinates. They rose to every difficult occasion and gave their best. Today’s problems are more complex and complicated and there are no easy solutions. The expectations and aspirations of people are growing manifold. Therefore, administrators have to put in much more effort. Fortunately, the newcomers are well qualified and groomed in the best institutes. They are certainly as good as those in the corporate world. With human touch and by adoption of the latest technologies I am sure they will be able to meet the growing challenges.

There's no higher calling in terms of a career than public service, which is a chance to make a difference in people's lives and improve the world.