NEW DELHI: Ram Sewak Sharma, a Jharkhand cadre 1978-batch officer, is also known as an architect of Aadhaar, a mega national identification program, and India’s Internet revolution during his stints as a first Director-General of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Following the Covid-19 outbreak, Sharma has come to the rescue of 1.4 billion Indians by realigning the CoWin mobile app to the national vaccination program after his re-appointment as a chief executive officer of the National Health Authority (NHA). In an interaction with The Supercrat, Sharma speaks on vaccination milestones, his achievements as a bureaucrat, and a piece of advice to young officers. Edited excerpts
From Aadhaar’s debut to making Internet access affordable in the country, now how do you see your role as chief of the National Health Authority (NHA)?
The current role is very important. It lays out the most fundamental needs of the people, especially in these trying times of the pandemic. Health has become a critical need of people. If I can contribute to their health improvement and well-being, and in order to ensure that 40% of the population which is covered under the Ayushman Bharat is effectively able to take advantage of the scheme, I will consider myself fortunate.
Secondly, the government is also giving the responsibility of Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission which is more appropriate from my point of view as I always believe that technology can be used to deliver various kinds of services including health services.
The Prime Minister has already launched the mission on September 27th.
Therefore, how to leverage Information Communication Technology (ICT) and video conferencing technology to deliver quality, accessible and affordable health services is important. So, I think, these two are very critical missions that I am overseeing, and I find myself lucky as I had virtually gone for the retirement, and the government was kind to me and put faith and trust in me to give me execution responsibilities of these two programs.
You have achieved a vaccination milestone that was also lauded worldwide. What is the next target?
The vaccination target is an interesting story because I think, if Covid was not there, the vaccination program in the country without a technology backbone would have been quite chaotic. Imagine about 100 crores of people of 18 years plus getting vaccines and information to find centers, would have a chaotic situation. Covid has reduced information asymmetry and has made the whole program very transparent and systematic, and people are able to book, register and download certificates. It has also provided a single source of information with all this coming in real-time. This is important as we know which are the areas where the first dose is covered, and where the second one is required.
We are also thinking of repurposing CoWin for a universal immunization plan, blood banks, and other kinds of applications.
As a far-sighted bureaucrat, what is your key decision that made a significant change in a sector of people’s lives?
It’s like a pat on the back. Decisions are made by political masters. I worked in the telecom sector, and my work resulted in a huge expansion in the telecom market, a great reduction in data prices, an increase in the number of mobile users, a surge in 4G connectivity, and Internet connections. For example, today, we have more than 800 million connections. That’s one area where I have significantly contributed.
I have also contributed to the making of Aadhaar. That was also an important contribution. It’s very satisfying. As a chief secretary of Jharkhand, I have contributed to the implementation of e-Governance in multiple sectors in the state that I consider a good achievement. Ultimately, we work with state governments that touch the lives of people. For example, automation of registration, commercial taxes, treasury system, and provident fund for government employees.
Needless to say that right from the beginning of your career as a bureaucrat, you completely attach yourself to your service role. Are you able to manage a balance between personal and professional life?
I am not a person who is detached from his work. Fortunately, I get quite involved in duties. Many times, it becomes very involved, and at times I don’t get a good night’s sleep if there are some administrative problems. Therefore, while ideally, one should make a perfect balance and harmony in personal and professional life, I have not been able to strike that balance.
What, according to you, are the top two characteristics of a good bureaucrat?
One is, of course, integrity, which includes honesty, and it is an important part. Dishonesty really doesn’t mean only monetary but also means favouring or not favouring somebody. Therefore, integrity is very important.
The other part is a passion for whatever you do. Many bureaucrats just spend time. The real fun or achievement comes when you get passionately involved in the job. I think passion for excellence is another quality I would associate with a good bureaucrat.
How do administrative apparatus ensure good governance?
The governance in a country like ours which is extremely diverse and large, with many languages, cultures, and ethnicities, is a challenge. So, unless you put a system in place, you can’t govern things, and we have a rule of law. We also have rules in various domains to cover sectors or areas that I think it is very important as these systems keep checks and balances, and there are audits too. It’s taxpayers’ money so one should be very prudent. In an administrative system, there is a hierarchy put in place, and it should be governed by rules, and a basic structure is created for guidance. It’s ultimately the legislature that creates the structures and has to work in that framework.
Had you not been in bureaucracy, what would be your alternate profession?
I was so passionate about becoming a mathematician. Mathematics, logic, and programming are my passions having a science background.
From your rich experience, what is your piece of advice to young officers?
The only piece of advice is that officers should continue to learn. This is the age of specialization, expertise, and learning as so many developments are taking place everywhere. You may not learn everything but whatever area of interest you have, it should be combined with the governance, and one should learn and upgrade knowledge, only then he or she would remain relevant. For a bureaucrat, continuous learning is very important.