Mr. Clean Who Pulls No Punches – P.W.C Davidar, IAS
Muhammad Ali could “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”. But in the late seventies, a young Public Administration post graduate student and boxing champion at the Madras Christian College was trained to ‘hold his head high and pull no punches’. And that has been the motto of this former ‘king of the ring’ for the last three decades in the Tamil Nadu cadre of the Indian Administrative Service. Wilfred Davidar’s firm handshake is the only clue you can possibly get of his boxing talent. Hidden beneath those rippling muscles is a heart of gold and the highest level of integrity the bureaucracy so desperately needs in our country. Whether it was a “prominent posting” or a low profile assignment, the Principal Secretary of Personnel & Administrative Reforms in the Tamil Nadu Government and the President of the IAS Officers Association, has lapped up his stint everywhere because he “got a team going in every job.”
After a five year stint as a Professor in his Alma Mater, Davidar’s heart was in either the IAS or IPS. “Right from my pre University days, I wanted to be involved in making an impact on people in less advantaged positions. My life had to be of value to them. NGOs could do that to some extent. But I realised that government service would help me go a long way in fulfilling that desire.” A knock out punch at the Civil Services Examination in 1986 catapulted him into the IAS.
With that fire brand idealism, Davidar was bound to touch lives. And make a fair share of invisible enemies. So it was a mere 4 month innings at the Chennai Corporation crease as its first Commissioner of the expanded city in December, 2011. A no nonsense municipal body chief cracked the whip on corrupt road contractors by imposing penalties if roads didn’t last a minimum period. “I still have no idea what got me out”, he chuckles but anyone who follows babudom closely will know who ran him out. While the floods in Chennai may be still fresh in our mind, not too long ago, Madurai was brought to its knees by severe inundation. “I managed to remove 2000 unauthorised structures on water channels with the support of the judiciary and the police and rescued thousands of families.”
One of the few officers to have had two stints in the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT), the first for just 8 months and the second for 4 years, Davidar was instrumental in getting land for the hockey stadium and was in the forefront of the construction of the world class multi purpose indoor stadium, Velacherry Acquatic Complex and the Nungambakkam Tennis Stadium well ahead of the South Asian Federation Games in Chennai. As the Vellore Collector, Davidar confronted bonded labour head on. The Government’s recognition of his crusade was evident with his next posting as Special Officer – Bonded Labour. “There were loopholes in the Abolition of Bonded Labour Act, especially its definition. I brainstormed with about 100 Deputy Collectors over a whole year and brought out a Manual which today has emerged as the bedrock of releasing bonded labourers.”
The highlight of his tenure as the Special Secretary – Health and indeed of the department itself was the 600 crore World Bank backed Tamil Nadu Health Systems initiative. Doubling up as the Project Director, Davidar introduced a Health Management Information System for Secondary Care hospitals in the State. Many of his welfare schemes were toned up further during his posting as the Information Technology Secretary. Apart from launching policy driven measures and working on the Employment Exchange, Davidar, through a case study of a patient who struggled to get a liver and kidney donor, found that the Organ Transplant Act had many “grey areas” that needed “clarification with government orders” and backed by “transparency on par with the rest of the world.” That’s how the Cadaver Organ Transplant Programme became his pet subject and even today, he is an integral part of many workshops and seminars.
The P&AR Department that he now heads is “human resources related with staffing and punishment issues.” Over the last two and a half years, Davidar has made a difference, thanks to his signature “team atmosphere”. His “only agenda is to help people.”
To call him a ‘family man’ would be like carrying ladoos to Tirupati. Along with his doctor wife Shanthi, a Psychiatrist at CSI Rainy Hospital and the Madras Medical Mission, Davidar has been conducting workshops on enrichment of the institution of marriage over the last ten years. Their eldest son Ashwinth is a HR Executive at Daimler in Chennai. The second boy Abhishekhan has taken after his mother and is in his final year of medicine at PSG Medical College where he had earned a merit seat. The youngest lad Ashikanth who is a Commerce graduate and an MBA aspirant working with a private education company is a cricketer who played for the league in Scotland.
An eloquent orator, I had invited Davidar to preside over a Public Speaking Convocation last year. The Chief Guest got off his blue beacon car outside the gate, walked in like any other participant and made his customary impact here as well with his speech. We’ve all heard of the expression ‘many a slip between the cup and the lip’ in communication. Davidar’s punchline touched a chord with the audience and has become a quotable quote. “There must not be a gap between your tongue and your heart.” That, after all, has been the chorus of his life’s song.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author, Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7 and a Public Speaking Mentor)