Paragon of Virtue

Dr.V.Irai Anbu, an IAS officer of the 1985 batch, is the Secretary to Government, Environment and Forest Department. He holds more than half a dozen degrees, and is presently pursuing his second Ph.D in Comparative Literature.

An able communicator in English and Tamil, he is a writer and author; poet and educator; counselor and motivator—in short a multi-faceted personality. He has written over 20 books covering short stories, creative parables, poetry, and essays apart from contributing articles to various publications.

Dr. V. Irai Anbu IAS shares with Marie Banu insights to his success and social issues of today.

As Secretary of the tourism department, you had launched innovative programmes, and were instrumental for the department to win eight National awards and one International award for Tourism. In your present portfolio as Secretary – Environment and Forests, what are the innovative programmes that you plan to launch here?

In every department, there is scope for innovation and in the Environment and Forest department there is plenty of scope too. I have just joined two months ago and am studying the functioning of the department. I want to start eco-friendly clubs in each and every village. These clubs can work on tree plantation, sensitise the villagers on the importance of ecology, avoid use of polythene bags and plastic, and provide environmental education. We are looking at introducing guides at Vandalur zoo, and are conceptualising on a lot of projects.

There are several NGOs working on environment related issues. In which way could they associate with your department?

I am an easily approachable person and I am ready to spend any number of hours with them, if it is going to do something for the cause of the people. I have the  experience of being  associated with some NGOs in various  places. We started moonlight schools in Kancheepuram. I keep track of the functioning of these schools which is meant for children above 14 years working in the looms. We are ready to  liaise with  NGOs and work in  the coastal villages.

A lot of pressing social issues affects our day-to-day lives. Which of them disturb you?

The cost that we are paying in the name of progress is very high. All these could be attributed to lack of work culture and laziness  in a few important sectors. I feel that the problem that India faces today is not climate change, sea level rise, population, or poverty. We have started deteriorating in work culture. Many do not have passion for the work.  They don’t enjoy it.  We spend more time on wasteful entertainment and meaningless work.

The focus which we had 1000 years ago is missing. We cannot construct another big Temple today, although there is so much of technology available. We have become money oriented. Easy money and quick money has become the way of life. This bothers me because anything else can be retrieved, but not the loss of character.

After completing half a dozen degrees and a doctorate already, you are presently pursuing your second doctorate in literature? What motivates you to keep studying?

It is a kind of motivation that I have fixed for myself over a period of time. Initially when I joined the university I wanted to pursue a doctoral degree. Later, I understood that working in a university may not provide opportunities that will suit my taste. I am more a generalist and like to work with people, travel a lot, and understand the psyche of people. I am not a research oriented person and cannot work with machines. So, I decided to come out from the University.

Immediately after college, I joined the department as an Agricultural officer as I did not want to depend on my parents. I moved to a village called Rayakottai, which is around 30 kms away from Krishnagiri, where one should order for an English newspaper a week in advance. My journey for civil services started there. I cleared the Civil Service Exam in the first attempt.  I joined IRS. In the second attempt, I got the 15th rank and first place in Tamil Nadu. Hence I entered into administrative service.

Academic pursuit helps a person to perform his job in a better manner. Your ability to communicate improves, and because of this you will be able to excel in your curriculum and impress people who come to talk on business lines with you. The gift of gab is always essential for an administrator,  more so in the present times, where it is a conflict oriented society and various interest groups are continuously working for a common cause.

Your books for youth to encourage them take up IAS examinations have been well received. What is your advice for the youth of today to take up civil services?

In those days, when I had appeared for the civil service examination, there was not enough study material. Particularly in Tamil Nadu, not many people were available to give inputs, and even book shops were not available. That is why I wrote books to motivate students of Tamil Nadu to take up this examination and come out successfully.

Youth are in a better position today, and need not have to sweat out searching for information. They can just ferret out the information from the website. Planning, prioritisation of time, preparation, and presentation are very important. There are four aspects for the selection in civil services: selection of optionals, collection of materials, preparation, and presentation. Now, for the first two, a lot of information is available and there are a lot of people to guide students and institutions are available to train them. For preparation and presentation aspects, they will have to work hard.

What were your learnings and experience while working for the fisher folk at Mudhaliar Kuppam, a coastal village at Villupuram?

Tsunami has taught us that we should have more awareness on environment and we should live in harmony with nature. We should understand nature, appreciate nature, and we cannot fight against nature. Whatever development that we do should be holistic.

The courage of the fisher folk was tremendous. No other community would have had such resilience to come back to normal life with so much of speed. Danger was not new for them. As Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, the fisherman could be rightly called as people who live dangerously. There are some basic problems that are associated with their lives but that require a lot of education. As we know, earlier there were about 70 percent of people dependant on agriculture, but today, this is not the case. Similarly, dependency on fishing should get reduced. Alternative livelihoods are to be discovered and implemented.

Your advice for NGOs to improve  work culture?

There are many NGOs who are working for the cause of the people. There is no point in having a confronting attitude towards the government, because you have lot of well meaning government servants also. No one should have extremism in anything. My point of view is to work on the holistic development of the people. We should focus on education, awareness and educate the people not only on their rights, but also on their duties.

There is no networking amongst NGOs. If there are integrated efforts of NGOs, the results would be tremendous.