Guest Column

Remembering BN Yugandhar

By Vijay Raghavan

BN Yugandhar, a mentor and great administrator passed away on 13 September.

When I started my work in rural development and began that with South Asia Poverty Alleviation Programme (SAPAP) funded by UNDP and Government of India in mid-1990s, we were fortunate to have some towering administrators of our time, again all of them from erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh guiding us.

It started with S.R.Sankaran Sir and B.N. Yugandhar followed him, both in Rural Development Ministry (BNY also served as Secretary to the PM) and K.R. Venugopal, then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, and with K. Raju garu as our leader in the state.

An aside : KR Venugopal’s daughter Anupama married Yugandhar’s son Satya Nadella, now CEO of Microsoft. Their marriage in 1992 was a very simple affair. So simple that even then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao was not invited. But PV came to know of the function and gatecrashed by arriving in his ambassador car with just one escort vehicle. Even that, the tale goes, got stuck in traffic as no one knew the PM was travelling and a green channel had not been provided. 

The amount of learning we have received has shaped up the success of building institutions of poor through social mobilisation processes which is seen as one of the success stories in South Asia and in the world. It was Yugandhar sir who guided the small pilot intervention of SAPAP into a State-driven programme with entirely a bottom-up approach when he was instrumental in shaping Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty.

I remember the early days of our work in SERP, where he and K. Raju felt that there should be a sensitive support organisation for the poor in the country and SERP should be one such institution where it stand always with the poor and poorest & marginalised. It was the work at SERP, where we have used the participatory approaches, reaching the last the first kind of concepts and working for the rights of the marginalised. He lobbied with many institutions and the government to shape up sensitive policies and programmes for persons with disabilities (he in fact formed a Trust, Commitments with his other pro-poor administrators including Late S.R. Sankaran sir, K. Raju, B. Rajsekhar).

He was one of the few administrators (I always called him Philospher King), who was widely read and had written extensively on issues of rural development and planning. We were working on participatory approaches for conducting National Sample Survey (NSS) during 2002-03, where for the first time, he lobbied with the Planning Commission (to which he served as a member during 2004-09), to experiment using participatory approaches in doing the NSS survey in Andhra Pradesh.

I remember the days we used to work from his home with Akunuri Murali, Dr. Amitava Mukherjee, Sandhya, Bahadur and others. I never found space in any of the walls in his study and even in his washroom. Everywhere he had books. His motto was, we have quite less number of hours to work for poverty reduction, so we shouldn’t waste our time. “One should work as much long as possible in a day and every day. Make your bed a work place.” This was motto of many of us who knew him and associated with him.

In fact my colleague, Gadiyaram Srivasta, coined the poverty clock which ticks backward to make us aware that the time is ticking to make us commit more time and evolve strategies for poverty reduction in Mahbubnagar district. That was his influence on our day to day work. No other administrator I know was as enthusiastic and energetic as BNY was. He was always a powerhouse, with sharp mind and solutions for any problem. He tirelessly worked in drafting the bonded labour act, PWD act while he was with the Planning Commission.

There were many instances I felt him as an enthusiastic social mobiliser, as we call him while he was supporting /mentoring his team in Commitments while mobilising persons with disability. I always recollect the time he spent with us in Mahbubnagar and his community dialogue process in Regadi Mailaram, Bomraspet mandal, where he was engaged with hostile men during our discussions on untouchability.

I have this image of Yugandhar of passionately placing his ideas and seeking ideas from people on developmental issues. He was same personality, whether he was with the Prime Minister or Chief Minister, or with fellow bureaucrats or with social workers /NGOs or with the community. He was one of very few administrators who used to call the CM by their name.

Dr. B.N. Yugandhar was an outstanding public servant and he jokingly said on number of occasions, that he continue to work in his post-retirement from public service to undo what he has done wrong while in service. He was very upright, principled, non-partisan with pro-poor leanings. A very sensitive individual and great person. His kind of a person is rare in this world. It was bliss that I have lived and worked with him, briefly but have tremendous impact on my way of working in the sector, more so on the kind of right attitude and behaviour a worker should have.

Yugandhar Sir, we miss you and your ideals and thoughts are always with us and we continue to serve the way you wanted us to do.

Lal Salam Sir.

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