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From culture czar to number cruncher

P Vaidyanathan Iyer & Subhomoy Bhattacharjee | September 22, 2003

When Bhawani Prasad (Bobby) Mishra will take over as India's executive director in the International Monetary Fund -- the IMF board is still to go through the formality of approving the Indian government's recommendation -- he will be breaking what was almost becoming a tradition.

In most cases, secretaries to the Government of India have been nominated to this post.

Though Mishra will technically be in the same position -- that of a special secretary -- yet it was as additional secretary in the finance ministry that he was recommended for that post.

The 1969 batch IAS officer from Union Territory cadre will swap his first floor room in North Block with the IMF slot that fell vacant after Yaga Venugopal Reddy came back as Governor of Reserve Bank of India.

The affable bureaucrat, who comes from Cuttack in Orissa, was recently in the news when he was moved to the Fund-Bank division following Finance Minister Jaswant Singh's budget announcement that India would start pre-paying costly external loans.

This is the division in the department of economic affairs that actually decides which loans will be retired and the sum that will be paid off.

But it is his tenure as chairman of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation from 1998 to 2001 of which Mishra is particularly proud.

And he has reason to be. While many of Delhi's denizens will remember the morning concert series that he pioneered in the various parks in the capital, where leading Indian classical musicians perform, Mishra has also been responsible for the large-scale makeover in Connaught Place.

The morning raga series probably reached its zenith when on a sodden monsoon morning, Bhimsen Joshi, his head covered by umbrellas on an open air stage, kept a huge crowd rooted to the spot.

The idea of making the Connaught Place market a pedestrian's delight was also Mishra's. At least one day in every week becomes a no-traffic day in the inner circle of Connaught Place, which unlike the modern claustrophobic bazaars that cram Delhi now, was designed to be a walker's paradise with its long arched walkways.

It was also his initiative that has helped the area acquire a reputation as an alternative site for cultural programmes. He also introduced a participative plan between the residents of Pandara Park and the market in central Delhi.

His stint with NDMC was his second one in Delhi, as he had served the Delhi government as secretary, finance earlier.

While the finance ministry did not allow room for such flourishes, in his three-year stint, Mishra has been one of the key members of the team responsible for the pro-active expenditure pruning steps that North Block has been pursuing with gusto.

These include measures like zero-base budgeting as well as the progressive curbs on autonomous organisations under the different ministries.

But the low-profile nature of the job has meant that Mishra has not been very visible in the finance ministry.

His natural predilection for being low profile also mean that few knew that he was one of the bureaucrats who helped accelerate the divestment of the ITDC Hotels.

When the on-again, off-again negotiations for divesting the Ashoka Hotel were underway, Mishra brought his experience from NDMC to clear the confusion on the land ownership of the hotel as well as those of Kanishka and Qutab.

Educated at Ravenshaw College, the 1945-born officer acquired a post graduate degree in political science from Ramjas College, Delhi University.

He has married batch-mate Adarsh Mishra who is currently additional secretary in the department of mines.

For a man who brought classical music to the capital's masses, it is no surprise that it is his second love. But he acknowledges that he is also a pop aficionado and -- like almost all other civil servants -- he likes to read as well.



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