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Nilekani picks Jharkhand officer as his key aide
Gets his choice for NUIAI director after PMO steps in
Uttam Sengupta
Tribune News Service

Ram Sevak Sharma
Ram Sevak Sharma

Chandigarh, July 15
The phone call from the PMO on June 20 came completely out of the blue. Ram Sevak Sharma, an IAS officer of the 1978 batch, was asked to meet Nandan M Nilekani at New Delhi’s Maurya Sheraton hotel after two days. He was elated to learn he had been selected to work with none other than the co-founder of IT services powerhouse Infosys at the National Unique Identification Authority of India (NUIAI), which the software czar heads.

The hour-long meeting with Nilekani was invigorating, recalls Sharma. “I had read his book but had never met him before,” he told The Tribune on Wednesday before flying to Chennai. He, however, left the meeting with no clue whether Nilekani would finally zero in on him. The PMO had shortlisted half a dozen IAS officers for the job of the authority’s first Director General and Mission Head.

However, even after Nilekani indicated his preference for Sharma to the PMO, the Jharkhand government, which had utilised the latter’s expertise in fits and starts, was reluctant to release him. The state was short of IAS officers and it was not possible to release Sharma, wrote the Jharkhand chief secretary to the personnel department. Nilekani was reportedly upset and department once again the PMO had to intervene once again and inform the CS that the Central Government would requisition the officer’s services nevertheless.

Infotech has been Sharma’s passion even when he was in the Bihar cadre before Jharkhand was carved out of the state in 2000. Bihar was the country’s first state to computerise transport department records and introduce online registration of vehicles. When he was shunted out to head the Employees’ Provident Fund, he promptly developed a programme and computerised records there too.

In the late 1980s, when he was the district magistrate in Purnia, Sharma developed a programme to alert the education department in advance about government schoolteachers who would due to retire in the next few months and the vacancies that would thus arise.

However, despite Sharma’s obvious expertise - he had a Master’s degree in math from IIT, Kanpur and later acquired another masters in computer science from California — both the Bihar and Jharkhand governments have been reluctant to make optimum use of his services.

Indeed, Sharma has almost invariably been hounded out of office. He was transferred nine times during the past six years and forced to handle seven departments, often learning about his new charge from the media or from a phone call made by his successor. Last year he was unceremoniously shifted out of the IT department and his successor did not even wait to formally take over charge before sending secretarial staff to cart away the files from Sharma’s office, ostensibly under instructions from the chief minister. In every case Sharma opted to relinquish charge and move out quietly.

Though the officer had single-handedly spearheaded e-governance schemes in the state he often fell foul of private software and hardware suppliers, who found it difficult to hoodwink him about IT and realised he was too ‘straight’ in matters of finance.

Now Sharma, who expects to join NUIAI by July-end, feels on top of the world at being given the new opportunity. The Election Commission, he points out, has issued ID cards to 600 million voters. “The challenge will be to integrate the existing database with the new ID card format and number,” he added. An additional challenge will be to prevent multiplicity, theft or swapping of the new card and number, he admits.

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