I remember to have met Shri Girish Chandra Bhandari at Allahabad for the first time in early 1988 when I was still a youngster with hardly about five years service experience. He was one senior officer who had impressed me in the very first meeting with his sober and composed demeanour, glowing face with an angelic aura and rather a captivating smile. Then as an officer of the Civil Service in the Senior Administrative Grade, he was some sixteen years senior to me which is considered a wide gap and seniority as per prevailing bureaucratic norms in India but he, to the best of my knowledge and remembrance, never made me to feel this gap and pressure while working with him during the rest of working life.
In a few weeks in Allahabad, both of us had developed mutual fondness and liking for each other, and this fondness and bonhomie only kept growing in the following years during our ministerial assignments on deputation and departmental posting at the headquarters when he became Controller General of Defence Accounts & ex-officio Secretary to the Government of India, where he inducted me as Deputy Controller General while papers for the promotion of my batch to the Senior Administrative Grade were already processed in 2003. I never forgot what he told me once during one-to-one meeting in Allahabad, “Look Jaipal, I don’t treat you my junior or subordinate owing to the difference in our age and seniority simply because when I interact with you, it feels like I am with someone of my own age and maturity level”. This was perhaps the best ever compliment I received from any senior and mentor. Even in formal communications, he wrote me “affectionately yours”, while the commonly used jargon being “sincerely yours”.
The office at Allahabad was among the single largest establishments in the country with over two thousand serving officers and staff those days responsible for the centralized sanction and audit of defence pensions on all India basis; also because of sheer size and volume of work, it was seized with many administrative and functional problems including frequent staff unrest for many years. To tackle these problems, the government had adopted a two-pronged strategy: one, to automate all important functional areas of sanctions and audit; and the other, to improve infrastructure and amenities in office and residential accommodation to maximize staff satisfaction. Many officers have made significant contributions for the Allahabad office in the past and present but Mr Bhandari as CDA-in-charge of the “Technological Missions at Allahabad” (terminology given by the Defence Ministry for its functional automation) and me as in-charge of administration and automation at execution level carried out the maximum computerization and infrastructural change in the organization those days. I had to even forego my deputation at the Under Secretary level to ensure the smooth development and implementation of the ongoing technological projects.
There are umpteen incidents, episodes and anecdotes worth remembrance and citation from those eventful years and days at Allahabad but for brevity sake, I would just mention one here to illustrate his managerial acumen, humanitarian approach and popularity among the staff members:
The new Principal Controller had joined after the upgradation of the organization, and his biased and vengeful approach towards the staff members of particular community supposedly to avenge some wrong committed to him during earlier stint soon vitiated the atmosphere leading to unrest in the office. Situation took ugly turn when some unidentified people resorted to arson in a part of office at night, staff associations blamed administration for the fire incident and started agitation in the premises from the following morning. As a regular feature for days, some 500-600 staff members would gather in procession in the morning, raise incendiary slogans against the Principal Controller and gherao his chamber to force certain unreasonable and humiliating demands. Only two officers who could stand unruffled and unharmed among the unruly crowd during all this pandemonium were Mr Bhandari and myself. The atmosphere was so vitiated and charged that none other officers including the new boss could dare to face the agitating crowd due to the fear of being abused and manhandled. Then it was largely the managerial ability, popularity and acceptability of Mr Bhandari in the organization that came handy in bringing the staff representatives to the negotiating table; peace and order was restored in a few weeks in the organization.
He originally belonged to a well-known and respectable family from Uttarakhand but subsequently settled in Delhi. Years later, once I visited Ranikhet in Uttarakhand, where I was impressed to see his parental palatial house but in his personal life, he was so simple and easy to get along without even an iota of ego or pride of his background, status and achievements. I have not seen many people with so many positive attributes and divine qualities combined in one persona such as simultaneously being very competent, truthful, optimist, fair, warm, caring and forgiving that he certainly was one. His original aptitude and out of box thinking solved over a decade old problems of the audit of Treasuries and PSBs, audit of sanctions and collection of data for setting up the database for the defence pensioners. During stay at Allahabad, we were frequently meeting during lunch time in his office to have few chess quickies as both of us were passionate about this game; while I had quit the game during hay days in favour of higher studies, he had distinction of having played with some national level players of this mind game.
I used to finish my normal lunch beforehand but he would take it while playing chess with me. His lunch comprised of merely one or two sandwiches, some seasonal fruit(s) and curd. Our lunch time rendezvous for the aforesaid reason continued in Delhi too without much change during the lunch sessions whenever I found time from my rather heavy seat of Director in the Ministry of Defence around the mid-nineties and he was Joint Secretary, later upgraded to Additional Secretary, in the Ministry of Urban Development; in office and outside, we must have played hundreds of rounds of chess. Those days Delhi had acute shortage of accommodation for officers and it was due to his kind intervention that I was allotted suitable accommodation in a convenient New Delhi locality on job exigency that made my life and work there so easy and comfortable those days.
During my long association with Mr Bhandari, I had learnt so many lessons from him in my professional and personal life including the spirit of “walk your talk” which I am so passionately and still committed to. I never saw him losing temper or being angry with anyone in office or outside. He was one person who would like to count on even one virtue in the man rather than cribbing or complaining about his umpteen negative attributes. I had never seen him being tense or harsh to anyone at the workplace; perhaps, this is one attribute where I had difference of opinion with him. Personally, he was placable and forgiving to all while I favoured action against those who were not amenable to discipline and reform at the workplace. Further, I was greatly inspired by his command on language, vocabulary and drafting skill, a rather uncommon attribute in bureaucracy, which incidentally had been my passion too since my university days; though to survive in a mediocre bureaucracy, I had compromised my passion for perfection in doing things in later years. Also, I found him contributing own hard-earned money to help or rescue people from difficult situations on many occasions; this is yet another attribute that I tried to imbibe from him.
I have often noticed many officers keep visiting their old places of work to maintain their liaison despite occasional unpleasant experiences and treatment but I never saw him coming back to office environment. Instead, he focused and devoted his time on other passions like humanitarian work, reading and writing post-retirement. He kept on frequently contributing articles, stories, children’s stuff, and so on in reputed papers and magazines, without indulging in any publicity. After his retirement, I visited him once to his house in Vasant Vihar, Delhi to inquire about his well-being and pay regards; it had been too long since we met last, so I was contemplating to see him again, when, sadly, the news came about his passing away on 28 March 2020 for his heavenly abode. During all these years, I have so often remembered and quoted him as “a saint in bureaucracy”. Having missed one last rendezvous, his sad demise has taught me yet another life lesson “never postpone it for tomorrow what you desire to do today”.