Rajiv Gauba: The Silent Performer

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The silent performer too often the strong, silent man is silent only because he does not know what to say, and is reputed strong only because he has remained silent. Winston Churchill          

New Delhi: A Delhi-based journalist found himself in the deadly grip of the Corona virus, with oxygen levels plummeting to a low level of 50–60 on the intervening night of April 28 this year. Before that, he had arranged to have an oxygen cylinder at home around 8 p.m. in the evening, but it was emptied around 12 a.m., causing acute breathlessness for him.

In such a critical situation, when beds were not available and there was also a shortage of oxygen in hospitals, he had only one option—to contact Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, who knew him. But it was not an easy task to contact Mr. Gauba at such odd hours. He was in a meeting at the PMO, and when the meeting was over around 1.30, he was appraised of the situation of the sinking journalist.

Within half an hour, an ambulance was at the journalist’s home to take him to a special COVID hospital. He was admitted on time and returned home after 10 days, fully recovered. Within half an hour, Mr. Gauba managed everything—ffrom an ambulance to a bed, an oxygen concentrator, and suitable treatment at such odd hours—ssilently, without any fuss.

This is not the only instance of the working style of the Cabinet secretary. Take the case of Mumbai. From being the epicentre of the Corona virus outbreak to being hailed as a successful containment model, Mumbai has come a long way.

With a high population density, the city faced a shortage of oxygen as the second wave of COVID-19 started to peak. Mumbai, with a population of at least 12.3 million, fared better than Delhi in tackling the pandemic, which had almost the same number of active cases when the second wave of COVID-19 surged.

And the one man who silently worked to bring the situation under control in Mumbai was Mr. Gauba, who again made all arrangements after the BMC Commissioner approached him for help around midnight on April 16–17.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Commissioner, Iqbal Singh Chahal, opens up about the swift coordination between the municipal corporation and the central government as Mumbai was dealing with a shortage of liquid medical oxygen as the COVID-19 cases rose in mid-April.

Chahal revealed that six hospitals in the city, hosting 168 patients, were running out of oxygen on the intervening nights of April 16 and 17..

Seeing the crisis ahead, Chahal sent urgent messages about the brewing crisis to the top functionaries of the central and state governments.

This time, it was again Mr. Gauba who came forward to respond to Chahal’s cries.

Chahal says, “Within 15-20 seconds, I had an incoming call coming from the Cabinet Secretary, Rajiv Gauba. He told me, Tell me what you want. I said we have to import oxygen into the state. I told him that we can’t manufacture oxygen at such short notice and that the turnaround time for oxygen coming from Haldia was around eight days.”

He adds, “I told him that Reliance Industries was just 16 hours away from Mumbai, in Jamnagar, and oxygen tankers can come from there every night. He said that such an allocation cannot be made just for one city. I told him that he can allocate it to Maharashtra, and I will make sure that it comes to Mumbai city only. And then 125 MT of oxygen was allocated to us from Jamnagar.”

“The same evening, tankers started moving, and the problem (of oxygen) virtually became history in Mumbai because of great help from the Government of India, nay Rajiv Gauba,” the BMC Chief was quoted as saying.

The son of a former Armoured Corps officer, Lt. Col. MS Chahal, and the son-in-law of former Punjab Chief Secretary Ajit Singh Chatha, BMC Chief Iqbal Singh Chahal says Mumbai is now self-sufficient to meet its medical oxygen demand.

The Supreme Court and the Bombay High Court (HC) have lauded the Mumbai Model. But the one man behind making this model worth emulating is Mr. Gauba, whose quick intervention made all the difference. The casualty could have been more if Mr. Gauba had not taken the request of the BMC Chief so seriously.

Hats off to such a man at the top of India’s governance! The working style of Mr. Gauba, a 1982-batch Jharkhand cadre IAS officer, is a lesson for the new breed of bureaucrats in the country to follow! His energy level, even after an extended period of service as Cabinet Secretary of the country, is puzzling as well as praiseworthy.

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