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A tribute to Dr BC Roy

A K CHATTERJEE


After forty years of stagnation, West Bengal is on the threshold of a major change today. The vision to build a resurgent Bengal which was sadly lacking all these years has returned to the centre stage. This is the most opportune time to remember Dr BC Roy whose birthday is today. Dr BC Roy was a visionary leader who led West Bengal to hope and glory after the trauma of partition. All the major projects of the state ~ the industrial towns of Durgapur and Chittaranjan, the new townships of Kalyani and Salt Lake, the underground Metro railway in Kolkata and the second Hooghly Bridge meant to ease traffic congestion were all conceived during his time. When the Ford Foundation was entrusted with the task of drawing up a Master Plan for the greater Kolkata area, the concept of town and country planning was ushered into the state for the first time. He was assisted by a team of very talented, competent civil servants and a spirit of enthusiasm pervaded the whole administration.
I would like to pay a tribute to Dr BC Roy who was a person of outstanding status. Both my father and I are indebted to him for our service careers.
After Independence, when a majority of British civil servants left the state, the senior most civil servants in West Bengal had to bear a very heavy administrative burden. My father, the late S K Chatterjee ICS, became the secretary in charge of both the commerce and industries and the labour departments. He had to encounter many difficulties while he was looking after two major departments. When Dr B C Roy became the chief minister, he kindly relieved my father of the charge of the labour department so that he could concentrate on commerce and industries. Unfortunately, in 1952, he suffered from a serious illness and the doctor advised him not to do any strenuous work and not to attend office for more than three hours at a stretch. My father was a very conscientious officer and he requested Dr B C Roy to grant him early retirement from service. Dr BC Roy did not let him retire. He created the post of secretary to the chief minister and cabinet secretary specially for him with the rank of chief secretary which was due to him and so arranged that he could attend office in two stages every day, with a gap for rest in the middle of the day. Such consideration could be shown only by a person with a large heart.
My first meeting with Dr B C Roy was in his chamber at Writer's Building. I had gone with my father to make a special request to him. Both my father and my elder brother were graduates from Emanuel College, Cambridge and I was also assured admission after my graduation. Though I had obtained a first class in economics, a letter came from Emanuel College like a bolt from the blue, stating that they could offer admission only after two years since they had to clear the backlog of wartime students. There was a limited quota for Indian students who were specially recommended by the Indian High Commission in UK. After looking at my results, Dr B C Roy immediately dictated a letter to Vijaylakshmi Pandit who was then High Commissioner in UK to include my name in the panel. I got admission in St Cathasive College. My tutor in the College had taught Mr Amartya Sen three years back and knew about the academic excellence of Presidency College. Without Dr BC Roy's kind assistance, my Cambridge trips would have never come through.
In my service career, in the beginning, I was posted as sub-divisional officer, Asansol and I had the opportunity to come into contact with Dr B C Roy on quite a few occasions. Durgapur Projects was inaugurated just after I joined service. He told his partyman during the meeting: I have given you a young SDO who will stay for two years ... you all used to complain that SDOs come and go within a year. So please cooperate with him so that he can understand the problems of the coal fields in depth.
Ironically, during one of his subsequent visits, I faced a tricky situation in the coalfield area. The unions which ruled the coalfields were mainly dominated by Bihari and UP musclemen of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha and a few were dominated by communists. The Congress had hardly any existence. One Congress leader who was trying to make an entry was creating havoc in the Jamuria coal fields like a bull in a china shop. I ordered his arrest the day Dr B C Roy arrived in the evening in Durgapur. I waited in the annexe while Dr B C Roy held a meeting with his partyman in the Durgapur Project Guest House. After the meeting, he called me. Before I could explain why I had ordered the arrest, he told his partyman that the SDO had done the correct thing as no one should take the law in his own hand. I was greatly relieved. Which political leader today would defend a civil servant like this?
When news of his death arrived, I was in the Asansol office and I could not work the whole day. My father who was very close to Dr B C Roy had literally broken down. I have heard so many interesting stories about Dr B C Roy from my father. I am recounting just one story to show how great Dr B C Roy was.
Dr B C Roy was very strong-willed and temperamental and normally did not tolerate any dissent, specially if a view was close to his heart. In those days, the attendance of secretaries at Cabinet meetings was a must and legal Remembrance had to remain present throughout to tender his views on any legal problem. During one such meeting, a proposal that was dear to Dr B C Roy was to be passed. But K Hazra, the legal Remembrance who was an outstanding civil servant of merit in legal matters, raised an objection. Dr BC Roy flared up and the proposal was deferred for the time being.
In the afternoon, K Hazra came to my father's chamber and handed over a letter and said that he was leaving Writer's Building. On reading the letter, my father found that Hazra had submitted his letter of resignation from service. My father immediately rushed to Dr Roy.
Dr Roy saw the letter and told my father to accompany him after office. After office, Dr Roy's convoy went to the residence of K Hazra who came downstairs as soon as he heard that the CM had come. Dr Roy told Hazra: I am like your elder brother, can't I shout at you? Anyway, please take back your resignation letter. Your opinion will prevail. Everyone was overwhelmed by this magnanimous gesture of Dr B C Roy.
Which chief minister will go to the residence of a civil servant today to rectify his mistake? Those were the golden days in the administrative history of Bengal. All civil servants respected Dr B C Roy from the core of their hearts.

(The author is a freelance contributor)
The Statesman, 1st July 2006

 

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