Ms. Anita Kaul
With communication being what it is nowadays, my day began with a piece of bad news arriving on Whatsapp. A friend had sent me a message that Ms Anita Kaul, one of Karnataka’s finest IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officers had passed away after a brief illness last night. This news was hard to believe (as with many Whatsapp messages nowadays) and I called up another good friend and erstwhile colleague of hers to verify. He had just reached Delhi to be with her family and told me the inevitable. She leaves behind her husband Sanjay Kaul and son Rohan.
Anita Kaul had retired from the IAS just more than a year ago after a long and distinguished service in the Karnataka Cadre. She was the Secretary to the Ministry of Law, Government of India at her time of her retirement, and post retirement had associated with a social sciences research organization. I had first met her a few decades ago and was impressed with her efficiency and insightful thinking right from this first interaction. She was with the HRD ministry of the Govt of India and had come visiting to Karnataka to launch one of her favorite women empowerment programs – Mahila Samakhya. What left me changed was the manner in which she accepted the prevailing realities of gender imbalance and was making suggestions that were practical, embedded in the context and implementable on a large scale. Her fiery passion for improving the lot of women was only matched with her sense of pragmatism.
Her visit to our tribal school at Hosahalli when she was the head of the DPEP program in Karnataka is still fresh in my memory. Her desire to know about all our educational experiments, her eye for detail and her constant questioning about the idea of the school’s architecture influencing the learning process was a learning exercise for all present. My closest interaction with her was when she was the Director General of Administrative Training Institute (ATI) at Mysore. It was during her time that this Institute along with the State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) reached its peak. The innovative programs and the impactful training sessions that she personally designed needed to be seen to be believed. One could scarcely believe that this was a Government Institution and the professionalism that every member of ATI and SIRD demonstrated was a tribute to her leadership. The next location where she left her deep imprint was in the Ministry of Planning in the Govt of Karnataka. She tried hard to bring in evidence based policy making and rigorous program evaluations into the system but with limited success.
Every person who came in contact with her will remember her not just for her administrative brilliance but also for her humaneness, her constant concern for the common man, her instinctive ‘people-centric’ thinking and her stubbornness. Yes, she was stubbornly honest and unwilling to deviate even slightly from the path of the high standards of ethics and morality that she subscribed to. She was also known to take thoughtful decisions, but once she had made them, would stubbornly resist changing it. Another endearing quality of hers was the freedom that she gave everyone around her to argue and challenge her. One could feel very comfortable criticizing her, knowing fully well that soon she would be her caring motherly self again. Another dimension of her that people would hardly know was her concern for her aging in-law and mother. She was always trying to be by their side and care for them during their old age and infirmity.
People like Anita Kaul come along very rarely. Bureaucrats like her are rarer. She set high standards not just for the IAS but for the entire development community. She was a unique combination of passion, compassion, integrity, hard work, discipline and concern for the last man on the street. We will all miss you Madam, we pray to the Lord to give your family the strength to bear with the loss. Let your soul rest in peace.