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Exclusive | Real growth is through employment creation: Former RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao

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By ETV Bharat English Team

Published : May 15, 2024, 3:58 PM IST

Former RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao spoke to 'ETV Bharat' in an exclusive interaction. He lamented that governments are not giving priority to the most important health and education. The former RBI chief also spoke on a range of subjects.

Former RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao spoke to ETV Bharat
File photo of former RBI Governor D Subbarao (ETV Bharat)

Hyderabad: Although the states and the Centre are implementing welfare programs and cash transfer schemes for immediate assistance, they are not paying enough attention to health and education, reckoned former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Duvvuri Subbarao.

In an exclusive interaction with ETV Bharat, Duvvuri Subbarao said that there have been many changes in the civil service in 50 years. "They (Officers are coming from all kinds of backgrounds and the number of women has increased. More people coming to civil service from IITs and other higher education institutions is a good development," quipped Subbarao.

'We are the fastest growing largest economy. We say the growth rate is 7 per cent. One question is why there is unemployment if the growth is so fast. There could be many reasons for that. Growth that creates job opportunities is essential. Governments should focus on it" he added.

Subbarao, who was born in a middle-class family in Kovvuru on the banks of Godavari, was selected for Indian Administrative Services. He worked as the Secretary of the Central Finance Department, in the World Bank and as the Governor of the Reserve Bank. He has penned a book titled 'Just a Mercenary?' based on his life experiences.

In it, he recounts his experiences from getting selected for civil services as a student of IIT Kanpur, completing his training, and getting his first posting as Sub-Collector in Parvathipuram in Andhra Pradesh to his retirement as Reserve Bank Governor.

Excerpts from the Interview:

Q: What are the changes in the Indian Administrative Service since you joined the service?

Subbarao: It has been almost fifty years since I joined the IAS. A lot has changed in these fifty years. Recruitment, training, career management, specialisation, etc. The socio-economic background of officers joining the service has changed. When we joined, 20 to 25 per cent were children of people already in the service. Now (officers are) coming from all backgrounds.

Second, the number of women was very low then and has increased significantly in recent times. There have been changes in many aspects including the exam pattern. Poverty alleviation was the main focus when we came out of training. Now there is more focus on the health and education sectors. There is an increased accountability. It was not there then. Then they thought that no matter what we do about things like water, electricity, and roads, we will survive. Not it is not the case. There was an opinion that civil service officers were superior to local sarpanch, samiti president, MLA, and MP. Now the situation is different. Some local public representatives have done PhDs. Now even the public representatives think that they are equal. Technology has improved significantly. But some things have not changed. Dedication, honesty, and professionalism are the same then and now. A civil service officer should have the interests of the public at the fore.

Q: What are the strategies and policies our country should follow for long-term growth? What are the main challenges we face?

Subbarao: A particularly big problem with economic challenges is jobs. We are the fastest growing largest economy. We say the growth rate is 7 per cent. One question is why there is unemployment if the growth is so fast. There could be many reasons for that. Growth that creates job opportunities is essential. We should focus on that. Development is increasing but not everyone is benefiting. Inequalities are increasing and they must be reduced. We should see how to increase income sources at different levels. United States America is ahead because it is an innovative society. There are great companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google. To create such an innovative society, focus should be placed on research and higher education.

Q: How is it possible to come from a rural area and rise to such a high position as RBI Governor? What are the things that have come together for you in this order?

Subbarao: It should be said that this country is great and proud. I have also written about it in my book. Society gave me this opportunity. I was born in a rural area, in a middle-class family, and came up in my life because of the opportunities given by the system. I studied at the Sainik School with a scholarship. My father would not have had the financial means to send me there without the scholarship. I also studied at the IIT with a scholarship. Later also while preparing for the IAS. Based on merit, based on my track record and experience in service, I was allowed to become the Reserve Bank of India Governor. It is more important than what we have read, how well we have digested it, and how much we have matured. This country and this society have given me a lot personally.

Q: How do you view the opinion that the country is run by IAS officers?

Subbarao: It is a slight exaggeration to say that the country is run by IAS officers. Once it was true. Now many of the leaders are also educated people. IAS officers should tell politicians their pros and cons on policy issues. According to it, the political machinery makes decisions.

Q: What are the differences between state governance and central governance? What can be learned from them and what can be discarded?

Subbarao: There are indeed some differences. The administration of the state is run by the Chief Minister. Whatever the Chief Minister says will happen. But there are some systems in the Centre. Whatever the Prime Minister thinks, the Cabinet Committee and the system of secretaries will examine the good and bad in it. That system does not exist in the state. That is, if the Chief Minister goes somewhere and promises to build a hospital by investing Rs 30 crores, then they will think about where the money will come from. This is rarely done at the Centre. The range of officials and politicians in the state is limited. The Centre has officers from other states and services. There is an opportunity to learn and teach from them. If you go to the Centre while working in the state, you can learn new things from the officials from different states and implement them when you come back to the state. It is important to work in central and state services. Less than two years ago, the states raised objections when the provision was made that IAS officers should go on deputation to the central services. It was not implemented because of politics.

Q: What is the reason for the recent increase in the number of people joining civil services from IITs? What changes have occurred in the service due to this?

Subbarao: A degree is enough for anyone to crack the IAS exam. It doesn't matter which subject you study. IAS does not mean getting a job in the studied subject. You need a comprehensive and deep understanding of all aspects. First I joined IITs with the desire to become an engineer. Then there was an opinion that IAS meant for those who studied political science and literature. But what comes to IITs is talent. Those who excel in studies in the country go there. Those who study in IITs are not only engineers, they can write well and act in Bollywood. All kinds of talent are needed to serve the country. The increase in the number of people entering the service from IITs is a good development

Q: During your time, IAS officers had the opportunity to act independently within the rules. Is there such freedom and independence now?

Subbarao: It has been ten years since I left the RBI. It has been 15 years since I left IAS. A lot has changed by now. It is natural for civil services officers and politicians to have different opinions. Because politicians are politically incorrect. Civil service officers have to work according to the rules. So in some cases disagreements and disagreements are inevitable. Civil service officers must give impartial advice and suggestions. That is the basic principle of civil service. Pressure is exerted for political gain, but what civil service officers need to learn is how to manage. It is wrong to reject everything. Doing what can be done in the public interest and refusing what can't be done. It is important to weigh whether the decision we take is in the public interest or against it. For example, the collector has prepared a vaccination plan, an MLA comes and says to give it to more people in his or her constituency, do we object to that? Adjust? Because what the MLA asked is also for the people.

Q: What is the difference between civil service officers going to field level during training?

Subbarao: There was no such technology in the training of civil service officers at that time. Now cell phones and video conferencing have arrived. At that time, if we went to the field level, we would not know anything. Now it can be observed from the place without going. Also, if the civil servants do not go to the field level, they cannot work efficiently and effectively. By going directly and talking to people, you can gain new experiences. Field trips help to improve performance

Q: There are already differences and disputes over the distribution of tax revenue between the Centre and the states. What is the correct solution for this?

Subbaro: The first thing to note is that in every country there are differences of opinion between the states and the Centre. It is good for the country if the share of taxes is transferred and investments are made impartially. It will be good if the whole country is moving forward. The desire of any state to develop itself is understandable. It is good for the country if the states compete in development. Central is like mother and father. So act objectively. It should be seen that people have the impression that we are acting like that. It should be ensured that there is no impression that more priority is being given to one state or region, more money is being given, investments and infrastructure are going there and private investments are being sent there. It is good for the country and the states.

Q: You have worked in joint AP, Centre, IMF, World Bank, RBI, etc. Where have you faced the most challenges?

Subbarao: I worked as an IAS officer for three and a half decades. After that I worked in the World Bank for six years. At the end of my career, I worked in the Reserve Bank. Every job has its challenges and its charm. The biggest attraction of civil service is the variety of tasks and experiences. If you join a private company, you will rise in it. Career growth depends on the field in which one starts. Not so for IAS... Director of Sericulture today, Collector tomorrow, then Advisor to Chief Minister, works in all fields like health, and education. That's a satisfying thing. As IAS, our decision is not final. As Governor of RBI, I have to make the decision. The decision taken here will affect the people of the country. It feels responsible and challenging. But every job has its charm and challenges.

Q: IAS officers have previously cited the need to draw a line in relations with corporate companies and politicians. But if you look at it now, the number of people who have completely erased that line is high. Compromise, what's mine is yours has increased, what do you say?

Subbarao: It is important to draw a line around the concept of public interest. It is also personal. Some people think what they don't eat, touch, office, house... this is the type. They are another type that I go to for politeness. But there is no difference in profession. Some people think it is wrong to go. So where to draw the line is a personal matter. It is important to maintain dignity befitting one's status. I also hear that the pressure on IAS officers has increased. But under no circumstances should IAS compromise on matters contrary to public interest. If there is a sour spot in the broom, you can break it. Can't break the whole bundle. Nothing can be done if everyone is together.

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