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A genius civil servant fades
KVR was amongst a galaxy of administrators who strode like a colossus but who were forgotten by society
The loss of science was a gain of civil service. KVR worked diligently as the Collector of Salem, special officer of Parambikulam-Aaliyar project, Director of Agriculture and Settlement Officer, Second Secretary to Tamil Nadu government before shifting to Delhi.    

Tamil Nadu has produced several outstanding civil servants known for their brilliance, efficiency and integrity. In the years immediately following independence several of these hailing from middle class had outstanding academic records and emerged in the IAS examination with top ranks. G Ramachandran, M G Balasubramanian, K V Ramanathan (KVR) are some of these who come to mind readily. These have added lustre and gait to the service by their immense contribution.

I remember KVR’s presence at the Economic Editors’ Conference in the 1980s in the session with the Minister of Fertilizers & Chemicals during the regime of Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister. They were days of momentous decisions and the dominance of lobbying by the Italian Quattrocchi. The demand for fertilizer was increasing in the aftermath of handsome growth in agriculture production. The important decision to construct the HBJ pipeline was taken to transport gas from the Bombay High to the northern states to set up large capacity fertilizer, power and LPG fractionation plants based on natural gas. KVR suggested scaling up the capacity of urea plants from the earlier 750 tonnes per day to 1500 tonnes per day, a hanuman jump in those days.

It was also decided to standardise the technology, design and engineering for ammonia and urea plants for a number of new plants then contemplated. A technical committee recommended CA Brown from USA as the most suited for collaboration. KVR as Secretary-Fertilizers, gave his preference in his submission to the government.

However, the power of Quattrocchi prevailed. SnamProgetti, which was way down in ranking at that time got the contract. Sadly, it also caused KVR the post of Cabinet Secretary, which should have routinely come to him. Even 24 hours before the announcement, senior civil service officials got the impression that KVR had been selected as Cabinet Secretary. But powerful lobbying and possibly his standing steadfast with the committee’s recommendation on CA Brown resulted in P K Kaul appointed as Cabinet Secretary. How sad, his brilliant son-in-law Jairam Ramesh who wielded power with the Congress came much later into the scene!

On every account KVR had been known for his brilliance. Son of the famous and brilliant lawyer K Venkatrarama Iyer, his brilliance was evident from the very young age. A friend of his recounted : “while KVR was studying at the fourth standard in the elementary school, his teacher spotted him as way ahead of his class and promoted him to the seventh standard! KVR maintained his rank at the top right up to SSLC but then he was under-age for admission to the college. Father Murphy, a famous icon of Loyola College of those days, permitted him to join the intermediate course with the condition to pursue the course for three years (against two)!” KVR scored brilliant again and pursued B.Sc (Honours) in Chemistry at the Presidency College. He joined the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, for further studies. His high rank at the IAS exam decided his career as a civil servant. This friend remarked ruefully that had KVR pursued science, he could have been a noble laureate.

The loss of science was a gain of civil service. KVR worked diligently as the Collector of Salem, special officer of Parambikulam-Aaliyar project, Director of Agriculture and Settlement Officer, Second Secretary to Tamil Nadu government before shifting to Delhi.

SVS Raghavan, former Chairman of BHEL, MMTC & STC, points to the elephantine memory: “he could reel out the scores of the senior teams in Madras league cricket matches that were played six decades ago!” Raghavan also points to his deep knowledge of music and referred in part cuoarm to the brilliant piece on Swati Tirunal. After missing out as Cabinet Secretary, he has served as Member-Secretary, Planning Commission and later as Executive Director, ADBN.

On his retirement he served as the Resident Editor of Indian Express, southern edition and later as the Editor of Sruti, a magazine for fine arts.

K P Geethakrishnan, former Finance Secretary, refereed to the extremely helpful nature of KVR and his versatility and mastery over several subjects.

In his demise at the age of 86, one of the most brilliant civil servants have been lost.

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