By Sanjay Pinto

(Image Courtesy: Chennai Metro Rail Limited)

Two trains arrived. And he stood on what was arguably then a less preferred platform. To an academic topper in the coveted B Tech Electronics & Communications Engineering stream at IIT Madras, plum corporate campus placement offers came on a platter. Here the starting salary was probably higher than a close to retirement take-home package in government service, where selection was fiercely competitive.

For a young Siddique, many birds in the hand were not as much as an elusive one in the bush! The guaranteed lure of big bucks at MNCs was far from irrepressible. Spurning the most lucrative offers, as the private sector was not his “calling”, he also ducked the “general trend” and peer pressure of heading to the United States for a Master’s degree in a top notch University. A one-track mind ensured that he stayed in India to “directly contribute to the country through public service.”

(Pic: M.A.Siddique, IAS, MD – Metro Rail)

Armed with “perseverance and hard work”, these twin qualities that were “inculcated deeply during preparation for IIT JEE and subsequently during the B Tech course in IIT Madras” he treated the Civil Services Exam akin to “an Olympic event” and raced to the All India No.2 rank in 1995. After 27 years in the IAS, this officer swears that he hasn’t had “any reason so far to regret that decision.”

The son of an Indian Railways Chief Administrative Officer M.S.Sulaiman and home-maker Hameeda Banu who raised him “with deep affection” and motivated him to “stay firmly on the track of public service”, this senior 1995 batch IAS officer now heads Chennai Metro Rail as its Managing Director. Giving credit to “an outstanding team of officers” who usher in “excellent work culture” Siddique takes pride in “leading the team for early execution of the construction of 118.9 kms of new lines at a cost of Rs 63,246 Crore” and adds that undertaking this massive task with “minimum public inconvenience” is a top priority. As is “operating services in 54 kms of Metro Rail lines in two corridors.” An important thrust area is providing a “safe and reliable travel experience” to passengers in the face of “rapidly rising ridership.”

Nascent years in the IAS saw Siddique posted as Collector of Dharmapuri & Sivaganga districts. “I still reminisce the contribution made for Irular tribes of the combined Dharmapuri district during my two year tenure.” The district was later bifurcated into Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri.

(Image Courtesy: Chennai Metro Rail Limited)

Despite his tech educational background, Siddque’s career trajectory reveals a strong focus on public finance for which he developed a penchant early in his career. “I had felt like a fish in water from the very first day I was posted in the Finance department as Under Secretary – Budget.  I have been fortunate to have outstanding senior officers as my mentors and guides.  It also goes without saying that I had to do a lot of reading to learn about public finance and economics.  My long tenure in the Finance department in Tamil Nadu at various levels including Secretary Expenditure in the Union Ministry of Finance helped in gaining expertise.”

A quest to explore new domains, led him to take up deputation in the Finance and Home Ministries. “I gained knowledge of policy making and legislative work and could closely observe the functioning of the Government at the highest levels.”

Back in his home cadre, Siddique helmed the Commercial Taxes & Revenue Administration departments and surmounted several challenges. “We could establish data analytics based tax administration and pilot faceless system of tax administration for GST. In the revenue department, we could make improvements in citizen services delivery system. The key challenge in making systemic changes in large departments was to enlist key stake holders for making active contribution to the change management process.”

The roller coaster ride in the bureaucracy was only to be expected. At one level, relatively “light or sideline assignments” in the Museum & Archives turned out to be enriching. The museum posting, for instance, gave him exposure to the world of arts, history and archaeology.  “I could invest spare time available during these assignments for reading and to pursue other interests on wide ranging subjects including economics, history, architecture and archaeology.”  While heading the department of Archives, Siddique found time to officiate as Senior Team Manager for the Indian Badminton team for All England Championship and Swiss Open in 2015 and be part of the Governing body of the Premier Badminton League.

Working through the most hectic assignments through his service life was possible “due to the mental and physical relaxation through my daily routine of playing badminton. It has been the surest way of unwinding and combating work pressure.”

The self-effacing and soft spoken officer recognises his wife Fathima as “a strong pillar of support through the ups and downs of public service.” Ever ready to pack their bags whenever his posting and stations changed, she runs the home ministry with aplomb. The couple have two sons. Afraz, a budding lawyer, is just as adept in the badminton court. The younger lad Faiyaz is an academically bright eleventh grade student.

For now, the ‘shuttle’ service is on. If it’s not the rail, it’s a rally!

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author of 4 Books & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7.  His 4th book ‘High & Law’ published by Thomson Reuters is also available on amazon) 



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