(Former civil aviation secretary and an IAS officer of Odisha cadre, Sovan Kanungo, breathed his last at a Bhubaneswar hospital on Tuesday after battling Covid-19 for about a week. The 1960-batch officer who lived in Bhubaneswar with his family tested positive for Covid-19 on May 18 and was admitted to a Covid hospital, where he succumbed to the disease on May 25.)

By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, June 1, 2021: Rarely one comes across an example when both father and son have served as Minister and Secretary at different times in the same Ministry. This had happened in case of Sovan Kanungo whose father; Niyananda Kanungo was Minister, Civil Aviation in the Government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. There was gap of nearly thirty years between their respective tenures.

Shri Sovan Kanungo spent early childhood in Cuttack when his parents were deeply involved in India’s freedom struggle. No wonder his entire family had suffered due to political detention of his father and mother. He grew up under the influence of two of his elder brothers. The eldest was highly patriotic and believed in traditions. His other brother, Kishan Kanungo, a very well-known figure in agriculture science was known for his eclectic outlook.

After doing his graduation and post-graduation in Economic in St.Stephen’s College, Delhi, he joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1960.

After completing his training in the National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, and the usual district and settlement training he had been posted as the Block Development Officer, Aska, Sub-Divisional Officer (now called Sub-Collector), Talcher and Collector, Sambalpur before working in the State secretariat. He spent maximum period in the Finance Department. In the seventies and eighties, he had a long tenure as the Finance Secretary.

For long he used to be called the financial wizard of the State, and often compared with iconic Bimal Mishra who was known for his legendary expertise on land tenure and land reforms. What was Bimal Mishra to revenue, Sovan Kanungo was to finance.

In addition to this experience, he had tenure in Labour and Home Department as Secretary.

In the Government of India, he also had a long tenure serving in the Cabinet Secretariat, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Heavy Industry, Ministries of Water Resources, Commerce and Civil Aviation. He was Special Secretary, Commerce and Secretary, Civil Aviation. After his retirement from the government, he headed a committee set up by the Ministry of Civil Aviation relating to regulatory matters before holding a constitutional post of the Chairman of the State Public Service Commission, Odisha.

After power sector reforms were introduced in Odisha, Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik during his first tenure had constituted a committee to review progress and problems of power reforms. He had headed that Committee famously known as the Kanungo Committee which is often quoted in the legislature and media when power sector challenges are discussed and debated.

During his deputation to the Central Government while serving in the Cabinet Secretariat, soon after the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 he was sent to the newly created country, Bangladesh to look after civil administration along with many other officers of the Indian Administrative Service including some from the Odisha cadre. The war ravaged newly emerged country’s civil administration had collapsed. Mr Kanungo like others remained in charge of district administration.

One Bangladesh civil servant by the name Choudhury had worked with Mr Kanungo. He was in a course with me in the University of Birmingham. He had full of praise for Mr Kanungo for his clarity of thinking and human qualities.

When he served as the Secretary, Civil Aviation he led the Indian delegation to the Assembly session of ICAO. During this visit to Montreal, he had met many civil aviation experts,one ofthem being Vijendra Singh, former President of Air Navigation Commission of ICAO, a British citizen of the Indian origin hailing from the Mewar princely family. During his short meeting he had been so impressed by his practical approach to air transport safety matters that he always remembered him every time I met him subsequently.

He was a copy book civil servant who followed strict political neutrality, maintained high integrity in his personal and official conduct, acquired high level of professional knowledge in the field he worked and always followed rules, regulations, and procedures meticulously. He encouraged his junior colleagues to give bold and frank advice. He maintained calm composure and never got ruffled. In whichever field he worked he worked with dedication, diligently and utmost sincerity.

In his long-distinguished career, he had worked with Dr Manmohan Singh, Dr Bimal Jalan two eminent economists. Like them he deserved to have been appointed as the Governor of Reserve Bank India because of his remarkably close association with the India’s central bank.

Whether in service or otherwise he did not have a trace of hubris and arrogance although he held many high positions and came from the family of distinguished person, Nityanada Kanungo who was the Minister of the Provincial Government of Odisha constituted under the Government of India Act, 1935 and continued as such after independence until he went as the Central Minister and subsequently, Governor of Gujarat and Bihar.

He lived a simple life and had no propensity towards ostentatious style of living. Although he believed in traditions of the Hindu religion, he had utmost tolerance towards differences and never believed in rituals. He had great faith in Shankarcharya’s conception of God and unshakable respect for Swami Vivekananda thoughts. Vedic philosophy, he strongly believed held India together, as a cultural entity. His patriotism and nationalism which he inherited from his father and brother remained with him till the end. His passion to learn never abated till the end. He was fluent in Bengali and had interest in that literature. Although he had learnt Sanskrit, he regretted his inadequacy to have access to the Vedic literature. He felt proud to speak in chaste Odia not to mix up with English or Hindi words.

During his retirement he always helped out people in distress and difficulties and made generous contributions to institutions for social cause.

He has two books to his credit; one is memoire and other a biography of his father. Both are eminently readable in simple and flowing language. Both the books reflect his analysis of events of the time. Students of history can find his narration of events interesting.

In his exit from this mundane world country and state lost an eminent bureaucrat, the nation a patriot and society a noble person. May his idealism inspire younger generation of civil servants to be bold, honest and neutral no matter where they serve.

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