Joining the Indian civil service at the age of 22, the nearly-three decade long journey of V. Srinivas, a 1989 IAS from the Rajasthan Cadre, has been one of dedication, commitment and hard work.
He gained valuable exposure to international relations during his years in the Ministry of External Affairs; though an IAS officer, Srinivas’s posting in the foreign ministry – which the IFS considers its turf – caused no heartburn. He learnt the trade side up close while posted in the Ministry of Textiles and people-to people relations serving in the Ministry of Culture.
And then, in December 2014, he was appointed Deputy Director Administration at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. That same year, a Parliamentary Standing Committee had recommended a series of corrective measures on AIIMS functioning. There was much work to be done.
Our Special Correspondent Charu Mittal spoke to him in late March in 2018, shortly before he was set to assume a new role elsewhere, following his under-2.5 year stint at the helm of affairs of the giant hospital.
Not one to shy away from hard work, and a great believer in institution-building, he took the bull by the horns. His AIIMS stint turned out to be “one of the greatest challenges of my career…to streamline processes and enhance administrative efficiency in (this) institute of national importance.”
Recruitment was expedited to fill up vacancies among faculty, scientists and nursing staff, implementing reservation policy, kick-starting long-delayed civil works projects such as the National Cancer Institute, and redeveloping residential campuses, the Mother and Child, as well as the OPD blocks.
But Srinivas’s greatest moment of pride came with the remarkable success of the Digital AIIMS project, a combination of the e-Hospital and the OPD transformation initiatives.
Before he arrived on the scene, the e-Hospital drive had been ineffective due to lack of coordination. Realizing the need of the hour, Srinivas played a leadership role, “coordinating with the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, National Informatics Centre, the Tata Consultancy Services and AIIMS to bring together a diverse group of individuals to work collectively for the Institute’s benefit”.
OPD services were streamlined through faster registration, electronic medical records, exit OPD counters, simplification of billing procedures, inter-linking of laboratory data, dietary modules, laundry modules and in-patient details. New cadres, such as Nursing Informatics Assistants, Patient Care Managers and Patient Care Coordinators, were also introduced.
The numbers speak for themselves: from December 2015 to March 2017, over 50 lakh patients reaped the rewards of this project; waiting time for patients per visit dropped by over 6 hours. Pre-dawn 3 AM patient crowds disappeared.
Patient registration became a matter of 40 seconds; from registering 2 lakh patients a month in July 2016, AIIMS now registers a whopping 3.2 lakh per month. Total registrations in a day have touched a peak figure of 18,000 patients, added Srinivas.
These simple, but far-reaching changes not only enhanced access to affordable health care, they also made AIIMS India’s first fully digital public hospital in July 2016. It even found mention in the prime minister’s Independence Day address, in which he appealed for pan-India replication of the model.
“AIIMS teaches compassion, takes away impatience and brings in a certain level of maturity to the way one sees life. It’s a transformational experience in many ways,” says Srinivas.
Asked about ongoing challenges at AIIMS, he feels the institution’s governance model entails significant process-driven systems, which can sometimes be more tedious than “even the Central Secretariat’s Manual of Office Procedures and the Allocation of Business Rules”.
“I am left with the thought that decades of implementation of the Standing Committee-based governance model at AIIMS have diluted authority from the post of Director AIIMS, while retaining huge responsibilities that the post is burdened with,” making it “extremely challenging” to administer the giant institution, he notes.
But Srinivas is no stranger to complexities or success at work. Serving as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Textiles (2010-14), he handled commodity price volatility in cotton, a crucial aspect for the Indian textiles sector. He was associated with sustained growth in textiles exports, which went from $18 billion in 2009 to $40 billion in 2013. A significant contribution, considering a billion dollars increase in textiles exports creates 10 lakh jobs.
Born to a mother far ahead of her times, who studied law in the early 1960s, and an entomologist father, who spent his years implementing the National Malaria Eradication Program; young Srinivas passed his early years in remote malaria-infested tribal villages of Andhra Pradesh. Chanting the Vedas and reading the Sanskrit scriptures was part of life from a tender age, and he thanks his parents for instilling in him values such as incorruptibility.
“From studying in a Panchayat school in Araku Valley to the IMF Executive Board in Washington DC (he was advisor to Executive Director IMF during 2003-06) is a long journey for me. It enabled me to appreciate that India is a meritocracy where commitment and hard work coupled with honesty and integrity will always be rewarded.”