Saturday, June 8, 2002
S T A M P E D  I M P R E S S I O N S

He is governed by the zeal to help common people
Reeta Sharma

Lt Gen J F R Jacob (retd) seen with young players at the Football Academy in Chandigarh
Lt Gen J F R Jacob (retd) seen with young players at the Football Academy in Chandigarh

I have closely interacted with at least a dozen Generals of national repute during my career but Lt. Gen. J F R Jacob (Retd) clearly stands apart. He may seem like a typical no-nonsense General who enjoys calling the shots, but there resides in him a man who has successfully overcome all human desires. There is no greed for material wealth, no attachments that would cause pain. Instead, he is compassionate towards the poor and downtrodden and takes a dispassionate and objective view of the happenings in the world.

His journey from the Army to the posts that he has taken up in the civil also speaks volumes for his extraordinary personality. His career in the Army sparkles with the achievement of having negotiated the surrender of General Niazi during the Bangladesh War. He was then Chief of Staff, Eastern Command. As an administrator too he can easily be rated as ‘rarest of the rare’ governors, for performing his work with remarkable conviction and sincerity.


As Governor of Goa, General Jacob achieved in mere 19 months what successive governments could not do in years. His habit of always being punctual forced all bureaucrats to follow suit. Then he was known for his ‘surprise visits’ to all parts of Goa to take first hand account of the situation. Chandigarhians too have benefited by his surprise visits to various parts of the city. The General even receives secret calls from city residents, requesting him to visit places that they feel are being mismanaged. His surprise visits can never be dubbed as mere gimmicks, for he follows them with action and constant monitoring. I wonder how many bureaucrats in the country have ever experimented with this simple and effective mode of action. Before General Jacob arrived in Chandigarh, the city Administration was known for its ‘dinning, winning and golfing bureaucracy’. However, quite like his stint in Goa, General Jacob made himself accessible and accountable to the ordinary citizens. For the Indian bureaucracy, General Jacob should be a role model, for he never burdens the exchequer. For instance, when he went to London to attend a Commonwealth meeting from Goa, he paid his own fare and made his own arrangements of lodging and boarding. This practice he even continued in Chandigarh. Today, the Indian bureaucracy has come to such a pass that even personal visits are covered under ‘official duty’ so that the cost incurred is met by the state.

Goa was in a state of bankruptcy when General Jacob took over its governance. The previous governments had borrowed large sums of money from the Economic Development Corporation and the Co-operative Bank at extremely high rates of interest. The General not only brought about drastic cuts and austerity measures but also secured a grant of Rs 50 crore and thus within a year, Goa was back on the rails. Along side, he improved the infrastructure facilities like power and water supply, transport, etc.

The expertise he used for administering Goa is very much evident in his role as Administrator of City Beautiful. By introducing amendments in building bylaws, General Jacob has set free Chandigarh, which was shackled by the master plan of Le Corbusier. He frequently goes around the city keeping an ear to the ground and always responds to people’s wishes. He has succeeded in bringing viable changes in the building bylaws, in tune with the changing demographic profile, commercial trends, security and safety aspects of dwelling units and need-based requirements of residents. Showing farsightedness, he has even permitted changes in institutional sites on Dakshin Marg and Vikas Marg, where architectural controls have been removed, thereby, giving freedom of design. This , of course, is subject to certain "volumetric controls" like adhering to a zoning plan and having the minimum parking and circulation space. Residential buildings can also opt for a number of changes like fixing grills on boundary walls, higher gates, etc. For commercial premises, the internal architectural controls have been done away with.

Besides bringing these amendments in building bylaws, the General has taken a number of other historical decisions, which will be remembered for all times to come. In fact, I feel that after M S Randhawa, he is the only Administrator, who has taken active interest in the city and its people.

General Jacob, though 82 years old, is extremely agile and sharp. He has shown a lot of enthusiasm for setting up an IT Park, spread over 100 acres!

A multi-faceted personality, General Jacob has a number of talents which many are not aware of. His love for football, which he played as a student in Kolkata, saw the coming up of a Football Academy in Chandigarh, where professional training is imparted to players.

His love for nature can be witnessed in the opening of the Botanical Garden and Nature Park, spread over 180 acres. This paradise of flora will have medicinal plants in 50 acres. The other sections will have a wide collection pines, palms, rare and endangered species, and ornamental, aromatic and arboretum plants. There will be a corner for ‘sacred’ trees. This garden will be linked with the existing natural forest covering 280 acres and spread across Patiala-ki-Rao. In modern times when we are being encircled by concrete jungles, this botanical groove shall be welcomed by one and all.

A connoisseur of art, General Jacob changed the look of Museum of Art in Chandigarh, which was lying neglected and was being run in typical sarkari style. He went to the museum for four to five hours every Sunday for months, digging out artefacts dumped in the stores. He has not only reorganised the display but also overhauled the lighting system. It is due to his efforts that Punjab agreed to give at least 15 finds of Sanghol for display in the museum, which also exhibits artefacts belonging to the Harappa and Kushan period. The 16th, 17th and 19th century bronze items now on display would have continued to rot in the stores had it not been for him. Pahari paintings are another attraction at the museum. Recently, the Governor opened yet one more section that contained manuscripts. Chandigarhians will soon have Museum of Natural History and Art too, thanks to the General. Besides being such an able administrator, I am amazed at the way General Jacob earned the respect of all political groups in Goa as well as in Punjab and Chandigarh. During his tenure in Goa, there were a number of political upheavals with defections and counter-defections. Even though he was a nominee of the BJP, he remained totally non-partisan and acted strictly according to the Constitution. Both Punjab and Chandigarh too made him face endless political challenges, yet not even once has he erred. I have no doubt that only a person with a clear conscience can adopt such a posture.