M. N. Buch
By L. S. Hardenia
Mahesh Neelkanth Buch belonged to a progressive and respected family. His father, who was an ICS officer and very close to Sardar Patel, died at a rather early age and after his death, Buch’s mother who was a far-sighted woman with progressive ideas brought up, educated and trained her three sons in such a nice manner that all the three became IAS officers. Sardar Patel, who was the founder of IAS, was of the view that the institution of IAS would not only be helpful in maintaining the unity and integrity of the country but would also be the ‘steel frame’ for governance and administration of the country. (To say that IAS was the creation of Sardar Patel, as the author says, is not quite correct because IAS was created on the model ICS (Indian Civil Service) which existed during the British regime. Sardar Patel had only changed the name from ICS to IAS otherwise its structure was the same as that of ICS).
During his professional career Buch served as Collector of Baitool and Ujjain districts of Madhya Pradesh. Being an honest, hard working, efficient and secular person, free from all kinds of bias, he handled and controlled many communal riots very efficiently and tactfully and had become extremely popular among the people and even after several decades his popularity in these districts remained as before. He was of the view that if district administration is alert and vigilant, communal riots cannot take place. In 1984 he left government service and contested Lok Sabha election from Baitool constituency. He also gave up wearing ‘suit boot, tie’ and a donned only half sleeve shirt and pants all the year round and even in the season of biting cold and during his tours to European countries he maintained the same dress code and never used woolens. He was also the municipal commissioner / administrator of Bhopal Municipal Corporation for a long time but when, after creation of Bhopal Municipal Corporation there was no local election for a long time, the then Bhopal MLA, ‘Sher-e Bhopal’ Shakir Ali, had asked many a times in the legislative assembly as to when municipal elections will take place, the then chief minister, PC Sethi used to say that as long as MN Buch is the municipal administrator, there will be no municipal election. This shows CM’s firm faith in Buch’s administrative ability.
While he was municipal administrator of Bhopal, Emergency was declared and strict censorship was imposed. No body could write or say any thing against government. But Buch in a circular to editors of all newspapers clearly told them that in spite of censorship, if they find any lapses or faults in his administration, they should not hesitate in pointing out these to him or criticize his actions. This circular was highly appreciated by Shah Commission's local representative in Bhopal, Justice Rastogi (It may be stated in this connection that when the Morarji Desai government was formed after 1977’s general elections, Emergency was abolished and Shah Commission was appointed to review the excesses during the Emergency and sub-commissions were also appointed in states). During the same period when Buch was Bhopal’s municipal administrator, the then CM Shyam Charan Shukla had abolished octroi system. Buch, in a press meet had criticised Shukla cabinet’s decision to abolish octroi system. By this criticism Buch earned the displeasure of CM, Shukla who, as a punishment made him (Buch) responsible for implementing the decision to abolish octroi system by appointing him secretary of local administrative department.
During his service period Buch was also made Vice Chairman of DDA at Delhi. On the very first day of taking charge of Vice Chairman of DDA he came to know that one employee, a Sardarjee was being harassed by many employees and officers and bribes were being demanded from him. Buch, after coming to know the truth about what Sardarjee had said took disciplinary action against all those bribe seekers and freed him (Sardarjee) from all his tormentors. After his resignation from government service, he set up an NGO which carried out many valuable and useful plans in the field of environment, building and construction, advising many state governments in different fields. Top government officials in central and state governments, because of his widespread experience, used to seek his advice which he sincerely offered. Prime minister (late) Rajiv Gandhi had made him Vice President of Urbanisation Commission with the rank of a cabinet minister. MP government had also made him Vice Chairman of State Finance Commision with the task of giving advice to financial institutions. He was also famous all over the country as a good writer and thinker on local, national and international affairs and problems in English and Hindi. The earlier common practice of writing letters in official matters had almost come to an end but he continued this practice and used to write many letters to PM Manmohan Singh and states chief ministers.
He was probably the most active person among retired officials. He spent 2-3 hours daily in physical exercise, including morning and evening walks. He was very punctual and particular about evening walks and did not like any engagement during the time of his evening walks. One day I (the author) asked him jokingly if at the time of his evening walk, the angel of death (yamraj) comes to take him away, what will he do? He said in the same joking spirit that he will ask him (the angel of death) to accompany him for some time in the evening walk and then take him away.
He used to telephone him (the author) almost daily to chat or for some other work or problem. On 5 June (this month) his telephone did not come. Same day at about noon he came to know that Buch had suddenly fallen ill and was admitted in a hospital. On 6 June almost at the time of his usual evening walk the Angel of Death actually came to him and took him away to his eternal destination.