Two roads converged and he took the one less travelled by. And that has made a big difference to the bureaucracy in Tamil Nadu. As a young MBBS graduate from the Kurnool Medical College, Prabhakara Rao’s first brush with the work force was as a Medical Officer in the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) in Ahmedabad or what has now come to be called ‘Modi – land’. But the role of a medical practitioner didn’t catch his fancy. A self diagnosis of a craving for a wider canvas – as a “development practitioner” egged him on to give the Civil Services Exam a shot. A berth in the 1982 batch of the IAS seemed just what the doctor ordered. And there hangs the tale of an officer who just lapped up the “sheer variety, the volume of work, the decision making and the reach” that the Indian Administrative Service had to offer.
There’s a lot more to Tamil Nadu’s Transport Secretary, who has been recently promoted to the Chief Secretary grade – the highest echelon of babudom in the State, than a passion for public service. Born on Christmas Day in the mid fifties, Dr.T.Prabhakara Rao has worked many an administrative miracle during his tenure in this State.
We are all so accustomed to cynical outbursts like “an honest auto driver is an oxymoron” or “the ‘auto mafia’ is beyond redemption”. With an Obama like ‘Yes, We Can’ persistence, he prescribed the right ‘dose’ to the ‘fleecing tribe’, even as he oversaw a fare revision and ensured that the good drivers were recognised and rewarded. Then came the task of reining in Omni Bus and Call Taxi drivers by first having them all registered and even providing opportunities to fine tune their driving skills. All this while holding additional charge as the Transport Commissioner of Tamil Nadu. Rao’s track record was reason enough for the Government to put him at the helm of the Transport Department as its Secretary.
“After every tenure, I make it a point to assess the value addition I made to the post.” Why not? When he was the Collector of the then South Arcot district, he found that the people of Cuddalore had no entertainment and had to trudge to Puducherry to unwind. So he spruced up the Silver Beach there with rest rooms, toilets and also roped in music troupes. The same commitment came to the fore in all his postings. As the Commissioner of Commercial Taxes, Registrar of Co-operative Societies and Labour Secretary, Rao’s accent was on welfare. The doctor’s ability to feel the financial pulse of Government undertakings, catapulted him to the top slot – as the Chairman & Managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Industrial Investment Corporation (TIIC), Tamil Nadu Power Finance Corporation and TANCEM.
A God-fearing officer, Rao’s way of letting his hair down is by spending time with his family, going for his morning walks, listening to ghazals and singing Hindi songs. A man who has always placed merit above all else, the only ‘strings’ he pulls are on his Sitar, that he enjoys playing in the evenings! “I never visit clubs. That’s just not my cup of tea.”
The dutiful dad has ensured that his children have pursued their dreams. Vinay Swaroop didn’t walk in his father’s footsteps but chose India Inc instead. After an Engineering degree from Anna University and an MBA from Cardiff Business School, Vinay now works for Dell Software Services in Chennai. Unlike her brother, Maanasa, to a limited extent, has taken after her dad – at least from an academic standpoint. Opting for medicine, the bright young lady is into reading minds, pursuing an MD degree in Psychiatry. The altruistic streak runs in the family. Rao’s wife Bharathi is the former President of the IAS Officers Wives Association (IASOWA) and remains an active member, plunging heart and soul into a slew of outreach programmes for the needy.
In a politically volatile State where officers can easily get branded one way or the other, he has steered clear of controversies. Not by being low profile but by dint of his unquestionable integrity. After thirty two years in service, he knows that there is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.