With a Masters degree in Physics from Columbia University, New York, V.P Raja joined the Indian Administrative Services in 1974. He has held numerous important positions including that of Director-Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development and Joint Secretary-Ministry of Defence. He is currently Joint Secretary-Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India.
I actually wanted to be a professor. I went abroad for further studies after doing my B.Sc. with Physics from St Stephens College, New Delhi. After teaching for a few years at Columbia University, New York, I shifted to industry, working in the T.J Watson research centre near New York. During the late 60s and early 70s America was the hotbed of student activism and I too was swept by its tide and a spirit of nationalism drove me to India. I was part of the team that produced the first electronic product for DCM-Tata. But I was disillusioned by the Indian private sector and its emphasis on maximising quick returns rather than contributing to society. That is what drove me towards the civil Services.
Contrary to popular belief Civil Services exams are not tough. Temperamentally I was the studious type and so I just needed to brush up on my subjects. I was good at Physics and had read a lot on philosophy. The only new subject that I took up was European History. So, though the exam was extremely competitive in terms of the number of people appearing for it, I did not find it very difficult.
My training period after selection. We had a two-year training programme at Mussorie called the Sandwich Pattern. The first four months is a combined training programme for the IAS, IPS, IFS and other Group- I Services of the government of India. In this foundation course I learnt subjects like constitution, law, public administration-basically the structure of governance.
In those days horse riding was compulsory. After this I did my professional course, which was specific to the IAS. This lasted for another five months or so. Then there are various attachments to army units, agricultural universities and industrial public sector units. Then you do a Bharat Darshan - basically a sight seeing tour of the country, which helps you get an overview of the country.
By this time my cadre allotment had arrived and I was allotted to Maharashtra. I was sent to Nanded as a supernumery assistant collector. There I learnt the ropes under the heads of various departments like the police force, judiciary, revenue Services, etc.
At the end of the one-year period, I was back at Mussorie for the final four months. Here we presented our reports in the form of workshops and seminars. Thus, it was a programme of self-learning through interaction. At the end of the course I was appointed as an Assistant Collector
The beauty of the IAS is that on your first posting itself, you are the overall in charge of your subdivision. You may have seniors for guidance, but most of the situations you face need you to act on your own. You will face emergencies like bus accidents or communal flare-ups. You need to lead from the front and make things happen. It is just as simple as that.
My daily schedule included touring villages, visiting taluka offices, conducting inspections, etc. All the while the paper work follows you around. Sometimes you end up working till late at night clearing all the files. Your social life too usually consists of interacting with fellow civil servants and some prominent citizens of the area.
My profile. As transport commissioner, I headed the department of surface transport, Maharashtra. The Pollution Under Control scheme was introduced during my tenure. I also served as Joint Secretary, Ministry of Defence at New Delhi. Currently I am Joint Secretary Department of Atomic Energy. So I have had the opportunity to serve under the state as well as the central government.
Some problems continue to dog the Civil Services. Many a times ministers and bureaucrats do not see eye to eye on issues. Certainly the number of instances where civil servants have been transferred due to these problems is on the rise. Then there is the issue of corruption. Many people believe that the administration is too big. I believe that if the government reduces its areas of operations, the civil Services will shrink likewise.
The best part of this job is the fact that you can make things happen. You can visualise a project, find resources for it, actually implement it and see it work. It gives you immense sense of satisfaction.
My other activities. I enjoy swimming. I like to go on long walks. I also enjoy travelling and reading books.
My advice to youngsters is that the first thing is getting through the exams! You need to study real hard for it. Through my experience, I have found that the study of liberal arts will help you in your future life as a civil servant than say science or engineering. Governance is all about people and if you study history or philosophy you will have a better understanding of human values.