In conversation with M G Devasahayam
Sitting in the apartment next to the Thiruvanmiyur Beach, with radiantly beaming eyes and sublime confidence of youth, the visionary with a dream, M G Devasahayam traces his journey from an ordinary village in Nagar Kovil to the coveted seat of Indian Administrative Service. A noble crusader, who spearheads innumerable strategies to bring phenomenal change, if words alone could describe who he is.
His sheer perseverance and indomitable gusto has brought a remarkable change in every nook and corner of the society. An economist turned administrator, he has engraved his foot prints in several fields which ranges from public arena to social activism. Whether it is working in the army or operating in private and public sectors, he has curved a niche for himself.
When Devasahayam began his career as a teacher in Loyola College, after completing his post-graduation in Economics, little does he knew that destiny has other plans for him. It was during the Indo-China war in 1962, Indian army came to his college to inspire young minds to take up the army service. From the numerous applicants, he was one among the two who got selected and later he was trained in Officers Training School in Pune.
He was commissioned into the 17 battalion Madras Regiment after the training. During his meritorious Army service, he had participated in the Indo-Pak War (1965), anti-insurgency operations in Nagaland and also worked as an Aid to Civil Power in Assam and Madras State. He has won awards such as General Service Medal, Samar Seva (War Service) Star and Special Service (Nagaland) Medal.
Life has its own way to deal with a man’s life and so does, it played with Devasahayam. He describes it as a “pure coincidence” when he applied for the IAS exam for the people commissioned in defence services. It was a fine evening and he was there after the duty, when he found the advertisement for the exam in a national newspaper which was left in the army canteen. As he always does, he gave a try. Completely forgetting about the exam, the very next day he moved to Nagaland where he participated in counter- insurgency operations. He was badly injured twice and once narrowly escaped death.
It came as a surprise for him that he has passed the exam and he left for Delhi with just a single week to prepare for his interview. It does not matter where you are, but when life calls, one just need to answer it. Recounting it as the major turning point in his life, Devasahayam narrated that he was selected for the Indian Administrative service and he began his invaluable service as a sub collector in the Haryana Cadre in 1968 and he was allotted 1964 batch due to Army service.
During his term in the Administrative service, he has done a remarkable work by successfully taking up several challenging and demanding positions in the Government which includes Collector of two Districts, Administrator of Chandigarh Capital Project, Transport Commissioner of Excise and Taxation and Chairman of Haryana State Electricity Board.
Whatever or wherever he was assigned to, he had an exceptional way of making matters into better. With his exemplary skill, he initiated several programs like Integrated District Development program and he took breath-taking efforts for the creation of a new district. Further, he played a crucial role in raising profit from the Electricity Board, which was functioning badly and causing severe financial burden to the government. Through a regulatory control by suspending corrupt officers and by introducing need based energy management system, he changed the entire power distribution system and within six months, he brought an unbelievable change in the department. Similarly, the transportation department too, witnessed an overwhelming change under his modus operandi.
It was during his administrative service, he met two of the incredible personalities of his life time, Jayaprakash Narayan and Mother Teresa. Vividly describing them as role models, Devasahayam happily shared his close connection which brought a remarkable change in his perspectives.
Devasahayam with Jayaprakash Narayan
During the Emergency in 1975, when Jayaprakash Narayan who was fondly called as JP was jailed at Chandigarh, Devasahayam was in charge of him. Protesting against the draconian laws imposed by the government of Indira Gandhi, JP was resorted to fast and the timely intervention of Devasahayam helped in persuading him to withdrew the fast. Further, the life of “Second Mahatma” was threatened by the political plot and it was due to Devasahayam, who suspected a foul play, JP’s life was saved. Devasahayam’s personal association with JP, the architect of ‘India’s Second Freedom’, drew his attention towards politics. He was active in politics as Secretary General of Tamil Nadu unit and later All-India General Secretary of Janta Party. His involvement in politics helped him to understand the political process and its relevance and relationship to Democracy and Governance.
He has recently published a memoir of Mother Teresa, ‘a drop of love’. He has worked with Mother Teresa and Missionaries of Charity for more than six years. He was in the forefront of setting up a home for the abandoned and dying destitutes, Shanti-Dan, at Chandigarh and also a sanctuary for lepers.
Devasahayam with Mother Teresa
The two unique personalities imparted immense values and morals to his psyche. It is from them, he imbibed that power is just a means to serve the people. Following the footsteps of the astounding personalities, he took voluntary retirement from the IAS in 1985. By actively involving in the Private Sector and Voluntary Organisations, Devasahayam for the past 32 years is living a life of his passion.
Being a prolific writer, several of his articles have been published in leading newspapers and he has also written books. His area of interest for writing ranges from resource efficiency to topics like freedom, democracy and corruption.
As the Founder and Managing Trustee of the Chennai based Citizens’ Alliance for Sustainable Living (SUSTAIN), he leads several other initiatives too, to bring out change. The NGO Sustain is meant for the cause of advocating and promoting Sustainable Resource Management and ‘Participatory Governance’. In 1990, he was appointed as a member of Government of India’s High Power Committee on Agricultural Policies and Programmes that dealt with the issue of “transforming Agriculture into an Industry”. But he expressed the pathetic state of affairs when he says there were “interesting policies and solutions but none of them implemented”.
However, he is not ready to accept defeats. He came forward with initiatives meant for conserving water and democracy through children and youth. Highly concerned about the corruption and the bad management that engulfs the Chennai Water system, recently, he has formed a Forum of Civic Association collaborating with Chennai Metropolitan Water Bodies and Water Rejuvenation Forum to fight against the poor implementation of government water supply schemes.
Living in a water “starving” city, Devasahayam points his fingers directly to the corrupt civil servants and engineers. Further, he says, “We are adopting most unsustainable and uneconomic method of desalinating sea water, which is absurd. We are begging other states for water…So water management has been the most miserable failure as far as Tamil Nadu government is considered in Chennai metropolitan city”.
He has adopted a strategy for conserving water for the future. He proposes to create a coalition of schools and children wherein the students will be demand for water which is more fundamental than any other right.
Deeply worried about the damage done to the very edifice of democracy, he puts forth an agenda whereby advocating youth to demand participatory functioning and decentralized governance which are currently lacking in the democracy.
As a man of outstanding courage and caliber, Devasahayam is concerned about the increasing “fear psychosis”, which is inimical to the concept of democracy. “ For youth, there is nothing to be afraid of. They should break the system which instils the sense of fear in them”, he says further. As they are buried in the technology driven world, which is the hand tool of corrupt corporates and politicians, he is extremely anguished to see that the youth are not willing to question. “Unless you start questioning, how will you innovate?” raising a valid query, he advocates them to be like Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathiyar who sang,
Achamillai, achamillai, acham enbathu illaye
Icckathulorellam yethirthu nindra podhilum,
Achamillai, achamillai, acham enbathu illaye
(I have no fear, I have no fear, There is not even a speck of fear in me!
Even if every human in this world stands up against me,
I have no fear, I have no fear, There is not even a speck of fear in me!)