Hyderabad: He is a former physician, bureaucrat, political reformer, columnist, former legislator. Naga-bhairava Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP, has helped bring about changes in law and used the rules to pull off extraordinary feats.
He was among the first doctors to enter the IAS when the law was changed to allow this, goaded by his medico friends who noticed his concern for social and political issues.
He has a few role models, among them Dr Rajnikant Arole and his wife Mabelle, doctors from CMC, Vellore, who returned from the US to set up a hospital in Jhamkhed in the drought-prone Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. People like Arole and a few others have institutionalised their work, so it could be replicated. “The main challenge is our governance system which has no capacity to replicate best practices.”
The second were Dr Varghese Kurien of Anand and A.K. Viswanath Reddy who started the Mulkanoor Cooperative, Asia’s second largest co-operative bank. This came in handy when N.T. Rama Rao was Chief Minister. Dr Narayan could persuade him to bring about the first law to liberate cooperates: The Mutually Aided Cooperative Society Act. “I had the privilege again to persuade the Centre to amend the Constitution. The 97th Amendment was my creation, it liberated cooperatives,” he says. “One comma and one extra word ‘cooperatives’ were enough.”
The third mentor was Sharad Joshi of Shetkari Sangathan. “He articulated that farmers are in the clutches of the government because of too much of regulation. What they require is freedom to produce more and sell it at a price that the market can bear.”
Dr Joshi’s ideals helped Dr Narayan overturn the AP ban on inter-state sale of foodgrains. BPT paddy was being sold in AP for `750 and in Karnataka for `1,200 per quintal. He mobilised farmers and crossed the borders symbolically carrying 5 kg rice. “Within 10 days the prices equalised and the ban became irrelevant. The farmers gained `3,600 crore.”
He helped overcome a similar ban at the national level. India was storing 80 million tonnes of rice and wheat when global prices were high. He met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi who told him about the fall in foodgrain production in Pakistan and Russia. “He had the data and he was an economist, he was not doing anything about it.”
Dr Singh put him in touch with the RBI Governor. The RBI team conducted research and using its data Dr Singh lifted the ban on foodgrain exports. India is now the largest exporter of rice at 10 million tonnes.
He made his mark early, while training as assistant collector at Karimnagar which had two village officers, a karnam and a mali patel and a police patel. A law was passed to integrate both positions. Dr Narayan set the paper, ran a thorough test to appoint the personnel and ignored political pressure.
At Visakhapatnam, he held four posts — joint collector, special officer of the Vizag Steel Plant, vice-chairman Urban Development Authority and MD of a sugar factory. “That is what the Indian government does,” he says.
But he made things work. The VSP had taken over 26,000 acres and given private owners a pittance. He used the Land Acquistion Act just amended by the Rajiv Gandhi government to get the land owners `50 crore. He moved the government and got 8,000 local youths trained who all got jobs with the VSP. “It should have been done in the normal course, but what I did was almost `heroic’,” he says.
In Prakasam district, the government started the Grameena Kranthi Padam, giving grants to districts on the condition that people contribute the other half.
He spent the money to irrigate land with water going waste into the sea. He designed three schemes — lift irrigation, check dams and borewells. He could irrigate 500 acres for `70,000, or `140 per acre.
The first project was completed at Ulichi, in 45 days, at `5 lakh, for 250 acres. The bankers needed hydrology clearance certificates, which needs 10 to 15 years. So Dr Narayan simply signed off on 453 certificates. “I was violating the rules, but I did it openly,” he recalls.
On July 23, 1989, a cyclone hit East Godavari. Five lakh acres of paddy was inundated. He used a provision called ‘Treasury Rule 27’, which makes money available in emergencies, sent lorries to southern Odisha and north Tamil Nadu to purchase paddy seedlings and supplied these to farmers so that they could plant them in time.
He drafted a 70-page cyclone reconstruction package and took it to Dr Marri Channa Reddy, who had taken over as Chief Minister. Dr Reddy was with his ‘Gang of Four’ — Mr K. Rosaiah, Mr Mr Chengal Reddy from Tirupati, Mr Rami Reddy from Parigi and Mr Samarasimha Reddy from Mahbubnagar. Dr Reddy took him to an ante room and was briefed on the report but lack of finances stalled any progress.
Then, in May 1990, another cyclone struck AP. Dr Reddy was in the US. He went over to the World Bank with this report and secured funding.
The next move was to Hyderabad and information technology was just breaking. “I am not a technocrat. You can call me a technophobe because I do not embrace technology easily,” he says. “But I knew it was the emerging thing.”
He needed land for the technology zone. “I picked up the phone, called the chief secretary and told him that we were building a software technology park and needed 187 acres. He said take it. I allotted the land and there has never been one complaint.”
Then there was a hurdle. Reliance had signed an MoU with the Congress government to develop the IT park but was not moving on it. “I sent them a two-month notice and they vacated the land without fuss.”
L&T was chosen to build it. “I wanted one big player to come in to set the trend. We focused on Wipro and gave them four acres of land next to Cyber Towers.” The rest is Cyberabad history.
Then he quit government service. “The finest bureaucrat can deliver only 30 per cent on a scale of 100. The norm is only five or ten per cent,” he says. “I brought about three constitutional amendments, several laws, including the Right to Information Act.”
He recalls his experience with the political funding law. Congress president Sonia Gandhi appointed a committee headed by Dr Manmohan Singh to look at the political funding and “he gave exactly the recommendations that I wanted,” Dr Narayan says. The law was enacted, giving 100 per cent exemption to donors. “The subsequent story according to Jaitley is that Advani wanted donors to pay by cheque. Within three months the collections fell by 90 per cent,” he says. Partly, Dr Narayan explains, because of the culture of cash and partly because of the fear of retribution by the other parties.
He says the 99th Constitution Amendment for the National Judiciary Commission is his creation. “I helped with seven to eight laws. My work has always been to bring about systemic change.”
“I realised the malaise of the country within a very short time of joining the IAS. You should not question the competence or the integrity of an official because it is deeper, it is systemic. You have no mandate to change the system when you are in the IAS,” he says
He started his political movement, Lok Satta. “I believe in politics. Politics is a noble endeavour. I coined this statement and patented it and I believe in it even today. But I always realised that it is not for me. I am much too rigid for that,” he says.