Hyderabad: His was almost a baptism by fire. Mr M. Gopalakrishna joined the IAS in Assam just after the China war. His career was marked by setting up and reviving industry. Along the way, he resettled refugees, dealt with the Mizo problem, secured the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant deal and set up the Godavari Fertilisers plant at Kakinada.
Mr Gopalakrishna completed his law degree by the time he was 20. “This was towards the end of 1960 and I was a little short of being 21 years and I had to join as probationer deputy collector,” Mr Gopalakrishna says. He would complete his assignments by 2 pm and would read at the district library till 5 pm to prepare for the IAS exam.
He cracked the civils exam and passed out in 1962, the year the Chinese invaded India. He was assigned to the Assam cadre. He was sent to Bomdila when the Chine-se were withdrawing. “We could see the damage first hand,” he says.
“We were left to fend for ourselves,” he remembers. After a year, he was posted to Goalpara on the banks of the Brahmapu-tra where he worked for two years. He oversaw the residuary works of the China war and faced floods. He build a bridge at Jogiguppa, acquiring a lot of land at short notice.
During his tenure at Goalpara, former AP chief minister D. Sanjeev-aiah, who was president of the Congress, came to have tea at his house. “This single visit raised my stock in the political circles.”
At that time, Assam chief secretary A.N. Kid-wai asked Mr Gopala-krishna to prepare a trai-ning manual. “It is being followed even now.”
Then came the Bangla crisis, when a large influx of Hindus from the former East Pakistan flooded Assam, driven away by the Pakistan Army. Mr Gopalakrishna says he found an entire village was moving in. He located them at a 700-acre grazing reserve at a place called Mornoi, with a road.
The number of refugees at the site reached 60,000. “If not for our anticipation and preparation, we would have had problems. I am even now happy to say that there was no epidemic, no fire accidents. Many people visited it to see how we had organised the place.” He also secured a Sainik School for Goalpara.
Soon trouble broke out in the Mizo Hills. The Mizo National Front of Laldenga cut off access to the Mizo Hills. The collector was under house arrest, a colleague was kidnapped and the Assam Rifles presence was inadequate. “Lal Denga and his people were operating from East Pakistan and there was a lot of gun-running,” he recalls.
He was asked to rush there immediately. For about one-and-a-half ye-ars he oversaw the logistics, having food packets airdropped by former Odisha CM Biju Patnaik’s Kalinga Airlines. Any movement was possible under armed escort, and quite often they had to walk or ride horseback.
He was then shifted to Aizawl, where he recalls a funny incident involving his name, Gopalakrishna Naidu. “My name was too long for them. Since I was holding two posts some knew me as Naidu and others as Gopal. They thought Gopal was giving them civil supplies and was a nice and gentle man whereas district magistrate Naidu was very tough. In fact, the commissioner, a Khasi, recommended that the go-vernment retain ‘Gopal’ and transfer ‘Naidu’.
He was then posted as deputy commissioner at Sibsagar, the district of then Chief Minister Bimla Prasad Chalia who had specifically asked for Mr Gopalakrishna.
During his tenure at Sibsagar, an agriculture university was set up and he acquired a tea garden for the ONGC where it wanted to set up its Eastern Headquarters.
“There was also border trouble between Nagaland and Assam. I ensured that such thing should not happen. The border had a lot of problems and you had to be very tough. They used to call me ‘Machine Gun Naidu’ based on his initials, MG.
In between, he came to Hyderabad for four years and returned to Assam as industry secretary when he drafted the first industrial policy resolution. Assam had very poor infrastructure then, the only industries being tea and plywood. He strongly voiced the demand for concessions if industry was to come to Assam.
Mr Gopalakrishna has other interests. He is state chairperson for Intach (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) for AP and Telangana state.
The inspiration came from a recurrent dream that he used to see of a poorly-maintained Shiva temple. “I soon started reading up on the history of that area and realised that so much had to be protected. I did not do anything in Assam though. When I came to Hyderabad, I became a life member of Intach, got involved in the projects and organised meetings,” he says
“Though an IAS officer, I have mostly been involved in the public sector,” Mr Gopalakrishna says. He was commissioner of the Vizag Steel Plant when Ivan Arkhipov, the first deputy of the council of ministers of the Soviet Union, came to Visakhapatnam. Dr M. Chenna Reddy was the Chief Minister.
The steel plant was stuck and the British and the Americans were not helping out. A week before Arkhipov’s visit, he put up 10 different arc-hways and gave the ‘key’ of Vizag to the Russian visitor. This pleased him enough to announce that Russia was willing to set up a three million-tonne steel plant whose capacity could be raised it to 10 million tonnes. “Chenna Reddy was very happy,” he recalls. He acquired 25,000 acres for the VSP “without a murmur or a complaint,” Mr Gopalakrishna said. “It was done very smoothly.”
He was appointed MD of Godavari Fertilisers, Kakinada, though he did not know anything about fertilisers. The plan was to set up a fertiliser unit after Shaw Wallace opted out. Coromandel Fertilis-ers was the only other plant, and a new product, diammonium phosphate, had become available.
“I found that there was no money and the site had not been fully acquired,” Mr Gopalakrishna says. After many trials, a draft project report was accepted. Mrs Indira Gandhi was then the prime minister, and she appointed one M. Srinivas Reddy from Chittoor district as chairman of Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd, the first Andhra person to hold the post.
Mr Gopalakrishna went over to Tirumala and pitched the DAP fertiliser and a partnership to build the plant. He suggested a 26 per cent share for Iffco and 25 per cent for the AP government.
The Godavari Fertilis-ers plant was to cost `120 crore but he managed it in `108 crore. Work got over in 24 months against the deadline of 34 months, “It started earning profits even before it went into production.” he recalls. He secured a disused track at 20 per cent of the cost to link the plant to the main railway line.
“They recognise me as Godavari Gopalakris-hna,” he recalls. The unit became a market leader with 70 per cent share in AP. “All this happened because of my contacts and my ability to convince people.” He stayed there for seven years.
He was associated with IPE for public sector training, posted as chairman of AP State Fiance Corporation which was the only unit to make profits. He retired as chairman of the Rural Electrification Corpora-tion in 1997, which he turned around. I handled very large projects and had a ringside view of 246 public sector undertakings as Chairman, Standing Conference of Public Enterprises.
Mr Gopalakrishna notes that he spent 12 years in Assam, 12 in Andhra Pradesh and 12 years at the Centre. “Twelve years in the field, twelve years in the public sector and 12 years in policy making,” he says.
He currently gives lectures on leadership, strategic management, project management and governance....