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Why India needs more bureaucrats like senior IRS officer Krishna Kishore Jasthi to fulfil its destiny

Siddhartha Tripathy

After coming to power at the Centre in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi often used to say that nation building needs to become a national movement for the rise of a new and better India – an India that is stronger on all fronts and more self-reliant than ever before. If his recent three-day visit to the United States has sent one overarching message to the world, it is the fact that a new India has indeed emerged and the country now enjoys an unprecedentedly elevated position on the global stage.

During a joint press conference with US President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington on June 22, Prime Minister Modi gave a befitting response to a loaded question about the status of minority rights and free speech in India. He said: “India believes in moving ahead with ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas’ (his Gandhian governance mantra, which roughly translates as “together with everyone, for everyone’s progress, with everybody’s trust and everyone’s effort).”

Being a strong advocate of the participatory governance model, the Prime Minister has over the past nine years also repeatedly emphasized the importance of revamping the bureaucratic system – one that can better serve the interests of the new India by fulfilling the needs and reflecting the aspirations of its people.

A few months earlier, while addressing an event to mark the occasion of the 16th Civil Services Day on April 21 this year, the Prime Minister hailed the contribution of civil servants to nation building and acknowledged that India’s fast-paced development would not have been possible without their active participation.

But his message was also laced with a sense of urgency. While the international community recognises that India’s time has come, the Prime Minister said, its expectations from the country have also risen exponentially over the past decade.

“The Indian bureaucracy does not even have a second to waste,” he stated, as he urged bureaucrats from the Centre and state governments to uphold the trust that the country has placed in them. Reiterating the message that he had sent to the nation’s civil servants on the same day last year, Prime Minister Modi said all decisions that bureaucrats take – whether it be relating to an individual or an organisation – should be in national interest more than anything else.

As a keen student of modern India’s history, politics and development trajectory, he knows all too well just how much the nation has benefitted from some of its finest bureaucrats – mostly unsung heroes – over the past decades.

One of the greatest examples of such civil servants is senior IRS officer Krishna Kishore Jasthi, who is currently posted in Odisha as Principal Director of Income Tax (Investigation).

Back in 1997, when Jasthi was just seven years into his career as a bureaucrat, he had written an article titled “National Development Through Development of National Highways”.

Right at the outset, the article had stated that poverty was widespread in India even after 50 years of Independence and the country’s then stagnating economic growth rate would not only lead to a recession that would further undermine its economy but it would also cause social and political turmoil what with widening economic disparities.

Calling for immediate corrective measures at the macro level, the article cited how increased spending in the infrastructure sector could spur economic revival. All of 33 at the time, Jasthi fearlessly mentioned how poor road infrastructure across the country – thanks to the government’s longstanding negligence of the sector – was a major hurdle for efficient transportation, public safety and development of rural, remote and backward areas.

Then he proposed the development of an all-India network of four-lane highways – with the provision of expansion into eight-lane ones in the long term – as he warned how continuing with the then national policy of allowing all states to plan and develop their respective highway networks would be counterproductive for the nation’s development and have disastrous consequences for its transport system as a whole in coming times.

However, Jasthi’s article was not like those writings where doomsaying armchair experts and left liberals do little more than ranting about everything that is wrong in the country and blaming the government for it all. It was a comprehensive and well-rounded effort, including explanations on why the Central government should shoulder the responsibility of developing the four-lane national highway network, a rough estimation of the expenditure involved in the project, potential sources of investment for the project’s development and maintenance, as well as details about policy-level changes and practical processes that need to be put in place for successful realisation of the project.

Most importantly, the article outlined the numerous advantages that India would enjoy after completion of the project – starting from enhanced commuter safety, national defence and internal security, to substantial growth in demand, investment (both domestic and foreign) and employment across sectors, to national savings and equitable regional development.

Jasthi made it a point to share the article with many government officials, including Commissioner of Income Tax B Rama Kumar, and several eminent personalities, such as former Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, former Vice President of India Venkaiah Naidu (then BJP spokesperson) and Jairam Ramesh (then Officer on Special Duty to Finance Minister), the late Ananth Kumar (senior BJP leader) and many other ministers of the United Front government.

When the BJP government came to power in 1998, Swaminathan Gurumurthy – a journalist, chartered accountant, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak ideologue and then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s de facto economic advisor all rolled into one – read Jasthi’s article and was immensely impressed with it. And that is how Prime Minister Vajpayee got to read it as well, after which he decided to include the matter in his government’s agenda.

“Back in the day, everybody had this feeling that our highways and roads were not up to the mark. Whenever someone would go outside of our country, they would come back and talk a lot about the vehicles and the roads. It played on people’s minds. Once I had invited Mr Gurumurthy for breakfast and also Mr Jasthi because I knew of his interest in national development. That was when Mr Jasthi shared this article with Mr Gurumurthy and we all found it very interesting,” said MK Sridhar, former general secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Not long after that came into being the National Highways Development Project, which is widely deemed the Vajpayee government’s greatest contribution to India as it played an immeasurably important role in boosting the nation’s economy. Many points from Jasthi’s article were later posted on the Prime Minister’s official website, albeit in an unattributed way, and hence very few people know about the way he paved the way for India’s economic progress.

Fortunately, however, his work was greatly appreciated within the IT department and the article features repeatedly in his Annual Confidentiality Reports (ACRs).

“The Golden Quadrilateral is actually his brainchild, and he didn’t get credit for it. Now India has very good roads, compared to many other places. But the start of that thought, of connecting India with four-lane highways, was given by Krishna Kishore. I am witness to it because he had shared that article with me before it all started happening,” said B Ramakumar, former Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, who was Jasthi’s then boss.

“Krishna Kishore is a great officer. Most honest, very straightforward, capable and competent, he always thinks for the country first. He is definitely one of the finest ever from the Income Tax department,” Ramakumar added.

Fellow retired IRS officer (1988 batch) and former Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, V Anandrajan, who was PS to then Prime Minister Vajpayee and is currently serving as Member of Appellate Tribunal under SAFEMA Act, 1976, holds a similar opinion of Jasthi.

“He is definitely a very capable officer who has a lot of integrity and who cares about things that matter for the country,” Anandrajan said.

Whether it be in the world of governance, sports, defence and security or any other sphere of life, the truest test of a person’s character and capabilities happens only during times of real adversity.

In 2014, when Jasthi was Private Secretary to Union Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, an extremely severe cyclonic storm – named Hudhud – hit his home state of Andhra Pradesh. After making landfall in Visakhapatnam (popularly known as Vizag) on October 12, with wind speed averaging at around 185km per hour, the cyclone ravaged the coastal city and also left its surrounding districts with no electricity or telephone network due to poles and transmission lines being uprooted. The Vishakhapatnam airport, which recorded a wind speed of 230km, was virtually a pile of rubble by the time the storm blew over.

In the early hours of October 13, Jasthi and his minister flew from New Delhi to Bhubaneswar and then left for Vizag by road. When they reached the collector’s office in Vizag, they saw then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu monitoring relief operations from a dark and sweltering room without electricity or security. When Naidu asked the minister to restore flight operations in Vizag at the earliest and directed Jasthi to work towards that end, Jasthi requested Raju to give him a “free hand”. Once he got that from the minister, Jasthi immediately called the chairman of the Airport Authority of India (AAI), met relevant AAI officials and began chalking up a plan to restore operations as soon as possible.

An unprecedentedly humungous task lay ahead and nothing less than what seemed like an impossibly Herculean effort would be required to overcome the challenge. After assessing all the damage and speaking with some 30-odd officials, Jasthi realised that there were no two ways about it. In view of the time that it had taken the Bhubaneswar airport and Miami airport to become functional after being devastated by similar cyclonic storms in the past, the general consensus among these officials was that it would take at least three months for flight operations to resume at the Vizag airport.

However, refusing to give in to the grim ground reality, Jasthi gathered the team and delivered a rousing speech – one that invoked Prime Minister Modi’s then recently launched “Make in India” movement. He told the officials that they should see the situation not as a crisis but as an opportunity to boost the shattered morale of Vizag’s citizens and also show the world that India’s aviation sector was right among the very best.

When Air India officials talked about the destroyed computers and absence of power on site, Jasthi suggested the use of hand-written boarding passes for passengers and flight manifests for ground officials, along with generators for electricity at the airport. When AAI officials pointed to the continuous downpour and missing roofs in most parts of the airport, Jasthi proposed placing waterproof tents and tin sheds for temporary protection against the rains. When BCAS and CISF officials raised concerns about the absence of security cameras and the porous nature of the damaged airport, with many side walls razed to the ground by the cyclone, Jasthi suggested using video cameras and deploying additional security forces on ground as a stopgap solution.

While he received a standing ovation from the team after his speech and successfully motivated them to strive towards making aviation history without compromising with safety standards, the more difficult part was to get the consent for this audacious plan of action from the heads of their respective organisations, from Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of Air India to Civil Aviation secretary V Somasundaram. Jasthi put his reputation on the line to move forward in his mission. While he successfully requested CMD Air India Rohit Nandan to operate a Delhi-Vizag-Delhi flight on October 17, he also managed to persuade the DG of Special Protection Group (SPG) to schedule Prime Minister’s visit to the airport during Modi’s trip to the ravaged city – just to uplift the spirits of the officials and personnel. Thereafter, he got down to personally coordinating all steps necessary for resumption of services at the airport – from 24/7 deployment of cranes and trucks at the airport for clearing several tonnes of debris, to putting critical navigation-aiding systems back in place, to setting up temporary food counters, to opening VIP lounges for women and senior citizens.

And then finally in the morning of October 17, within five days of the landfall of Hudhud, the Air India flight from Delhi landed in Vizag – and aviation history was well and truly made. This extraordinary achievement by the airport restoration team led by Jasthi was hailed not only by the people of Vizag but also by the national media.

Jasthi counts this as one of the two most satisfying achievements of his 13-month stint at the Civil Aviation Ministry. The other one involves SpiceJet, the second largest airline in India by number of domestic passengers.

Not many may remember now that SpiceJet was in dire straits on the financial front in 2014, with so much debt piling up that its closure was looking imminent. The media was busy writing the airline’s obituary, with reports saying how Spice Jet was headed the Kingfisher way.

Jasthi was well aware of how the closing of Kingfisher Airlines had left thousands of people unemployed and in huge debts, not to mention the extreme inconvenience it caused to those who had booked tickets in advance. He knew that SpiceJet had an impressive fleet with wide operations as well as a great team of pilots and crew and that its closure would lead to a loss of more than 20,000 direct and indirect jobs. Jasthi was also knowledgeable of the fact that once an airline closes operations, the chances of its revival become remote with ever-mounting debt and concomitant procedural and administrative problems.

So, he decided to study the Spice Jet case in depth for a month and came to the conclusion that a proactive approach to saving the airline was call of the hour. He was convinced that if Spice Jet could be kept afloat with the support of the Civil Aviation ministry and given more time to pay back its debtors and vendors, it would have more than a fighting chance to survive with the infusion of timely capital.

During the July-December 2014 period, the odds could not have been stacked more heavily against SpiceJet. The Airports Authority of India, the airports of Mumbai and Delhi wanted the airline grounded for nonpayment of dues. Oil corporations had issued notices for stopping of fuelling. The IT department had attached the airline’s accounts for non-payment of TDS. The lessors had sent notices for the return of aircraft. The vendors were pressing for payment of dues. And the Director General of Civil Aviation had issued notices for refund of tickets that had been booked in advance.

While Jasthi realised that trying to save SpiceJet would mean swimming against an extremely strong tide, he was also keenly aware that the airline’s failure would mean all-round losses in the aviation industry. The airports would have never recovered their dues. Those oil companies and statutory authorities would have been burdened with bad debts. Flight tickets would have become more expensive (as aircraft lease charges typically increase in countries where airlines default to aircraft lessors). Most importantly, a large number of passengers who had booked tickets in advance would have lost their money – an event that would have significantly undermined the public’s confidence in the aviation industry and the government at large.

This made him determined to do everything he could within his powers to give SpiceJet a shot at revival. So, throughout the second half of 2014, he held numerous meetings with top officials of the Civil Aviation sector – from the AAI Chairman to Civil Aviation DG to the senior management of Mumbai and Delhi airports, just to name a few – in order to convince them about the merits of lending Spice Jet a helping hand for some time and give it a chance to come out of its crisis.

In November of that year, during a meeting of the top brass of the Civil Aviation Ministry, Jasthi went out on a limb as he made an appeal to revive Spice Jet by helping it find a strategic investor – along the lines that Satyam Computers was saved by bringing Tech Mahindra as its strategic partner. His suggestion instantly resonated with everyone at the meeting. Efforts to find potential strategic investors started soon thereafter and, before long, multi-faceted entrepreneur Ajay Singh – who had co-founded the airline in 2005 and exited it in 2010 – returned to buy it back.

Although the rest is common knowledge, Jasthi’s pivotal role in Spice jet’s survival story is still something that only certain circles in the corridors of power and the corporate world know of. However, Chandrababu Naidu was fully aware of the IRS officer’s exceptional competence by the mid-2010s.

Therefore, when Naidu – a visionary political leader who was then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh – got the Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board (APEDB) established with the aim of sustaining the double-digit growth momentum of his state and making it the top investment destination in the country, he was clear that only an officer of Jasthi’s integrity and calibre would fit the bill as the leader of the board. And soon enough, upon the request of the TDP government to the Centre, Jasthi was deputed in 2015 to Andhra Pradesh as CEO of APEDB for a period of three years.

Jasthi got deeply involved in everything that was necessary to make APEDB the driver of his home state’s transformation. He played a key role in the team selection process, which involved handpicking the most suitable individuals for the job. First, a team of young, talented and committed professionals from a variety of backgrounds – top management graduates from across the world to local NGO workers – was carefully built.

Led by Jasthi, this team approached priority markets – major economies such as the US, France, Germany, Japan, China and Korea – and developed an extensive stakeholder network of 7,000 global and domestic businesses (including nearly 650 Fortune 1000 companies). APEDB met more than 1,000 CEOs from leading global companies along the way. The team had also put in place a clearly defined strategy on how to make collaborations and partnerships arising out of these engagements boost Andhra Pradesh’s credentials as an investment hub.

With extensive and targeted promotion campaigns along with unfailing follow-up action, the APEDB successfully raised awareness among international investors and key global influencers about the attractiveness of Andhra Pradesh as an investment destination. As a result, by January 2019, the APEDB had got for the state investment projects worth Rs 60,000 crore, all in advance stages of implementation, and with the potential of generating more than 1,27,000 jobs.

When APEDB’s efforts resulted in Andhra getting officially recognised as one of the top three business-friendly destinations of India, the whole country sat up and took notice. The APEDB was lauded by various state governments, CII, FICCI, NITI Aayog and Invest India, among many others, for its invaluable contribution – including at government policy level – to the state’s transformation. And the young organisation, within less than half a decade of its inception, received the Gold Award for being the best organisation in India for Investment Promotion and Project Facilitation at the 55th SKOCH Summit in New Delhi. Established with the aim of celebrating human excellence and agents of change, the SKOCH Awards are prestigious particularly because they have been the sole independent benchmark of best practices in India in the fields of inclusive growth, governance, finance, banking, economics and corporate citizenship.

Jasthi’s performance as APEDB CEO was so outstanding that his term was extended for another two years, until 2020. However, he did not see out his extended tenure.

After the YSR Congress Party came to power in mid-2019, it unleashed what many observers called political vendetta against government officials who were perceived to be in the good books of Naidu. Jasthi, being part of the team of officers who had assessed the incomes of YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s Jagati Publications and levied a Rs 122.78 crore tax in 2010, was in the crosshairs of the new ruling regime. He was immediately relieved from his APEDB post, transferred to the General Administration Department and was kept in waiting – without any post or salary – for almost the rest of the year. In December 2019, to many people’s shock and outrage, he was suspended on charges of misappropriation of funds during his stint at the APEDB.

Being in the right with nothing to hide or fear, Jasthi moved the Central Administrative Tribunal, which eventually reinstated him as Income Tax Commissioner. Still, he had to wage a legal battle against the Andhra Pradesh government for well over two years before the High Court finally ruled that the case against Jasthi was “illegal” and was only “aimed at harassing the officer”.

Even those seriously testing times failed to shake up Jasthi, because his indomitable character and illustrious career had been built on a rock-solid foundation of principles-based upbringing, value-centric education and great influences.

Coming from a family of lawyers, he always understood the resurrective power of legal recourse in the face of unfair treatment and malicious attacks.

His father, Justice J Eswara Prasad, was a well-known and highly respected public figure who held many distinguished positions over the course of his legal career. After being judge at the High Courts of both Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Justice Prasad was appointed in 1997 as chairman of the Special Court under the Andhra Pradesh Land Grabbing Prohibition Act (where he streamlined the administration of the court, disposed of several cases and successfully thwarted land-grabbing activities that had become rampant in the state). In the same year, he also started serving as chairman of the Appellate Tribunal for Forfeited Property, New Delhi, a post that he held for six years until his retirement in March 2003.

Jasthi’s mother, J. Chamanthi, is an eminent lawyer. While his paternal grandfather, Late J. Sambasiva Rao, was widely regarded as an outstanding district judge, the ace bureaucrat’s paternal grandmother, Late Mrs. J. Sitamahalakshmi, was also a leading lawyer of her times who was Member of Legislative Council in Madras Presidency and Andhra Pradesh State as well as a well-known philanthropist and social worker.

Jasthi thus comes from a family of people who have been far more than just their respective professions. This is remarkably evident from a book titled “Towards an Urban Revolution”, which he co-authored with his father in the early 2000s. The book is an in-depth study that identifies critical issues that the government must address for well-planned and all-round urban development across the nation to ensure a good quality of life for present and future citizens. But over and above that, the book lays out comprehensive guidelines – both at policy and implementation levels, covering everything from sanitation, building construction and infrastructure, to transportation, tourism and groundwater conservation, to effective urban governance and population management – on how to achieve that objective.

During a meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence in the national capital, where Jasthi was present along with late Padma Vibhushan recipient Vishvesha Teertha Swami (then head of the Pejavara Matha), he had managed to hand over an article “National Campaign for Cleanliness” (derived from the aforementioned book) to Prime Minister Modi on July 21, 2014, just a few months after the four-time Gujarat CM came to power at the Centre on a massive mandate. A little over two months later, on October 2, the Modi government announced its Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) with a countrywide campaign.

“Before the Swachh Bharat Mission became a movement, Mr Jasthi had written and shared this article about the need for a national cleanliness drive. Many of the points and suggestions made in it have now been implemented on the ground thanks to the Modi government’s Clean India campaign,” said D.P Anantha, then secretary to Vishwesha Teertha Swami, who was also present during the New Delhi meeting.

“Mr Jasthi is an excellent officer and his article, in fact the book itself that he wrote with his father, was a precursor of sorts to some of the good things that have happened in the country over the past decade,” he added.

The 1990-batch IRS officer’s name has been synonymous with excellence from fairly early on in his life. Even before he joined government service, he had a successful career as a CA with a leading Chartered Accountancy firm in Hyderabad. He also showed early promise as a bureaucrat when he was awarded the Finance Minister’s Gold Medal by Manmohan Singh (then Union Minister of Finance) for Best All-Round Performance in the 45th batch of Indian Revenue Service. Later, his book on Income Tax Provisions pertaining to charitable and religious organisations was not only well received in government and finance circles, it earned praise from none other than late Nani A Palkhiwala. Jasthi is known to have preserved a letter of appreciation from the iconic jurist, economist and humanitarian, who has influenced him in no small measure over the past many decades.

Those who know Jasthi well attribute his excellence as a human being also to the value-based education he received during his graduation years at Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. He remains closely associated with Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, which was founded by revered Indian guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba in 1972 and continues to be known internationally for its outstanding charitable and humanitarian work in various fields such as healthcare, education and drinking water projects.

In a recently launched environmental project by the trust’s Odisha unit (in collaboration with Jagannath Service Foundation), Jasthi served as coordinator of an initiative to plant 10 lakh trees in the state within the next two years – as part of the Sri Sathya Sai Prema Tharu programme of planting one crore trees across the country by the legendary guru’s birth centenary on November 23, 2025.

“Ultimately, we have to face this challenge of global warming. If we don’t act timely, experts and studies say, many places on the planet will become unliveable. Water bodies will dry up and there will be droughts. We cannot leave behind such a world for our future generations. So, everyone should work together to make sure this does not happen,” Jasthi said in an exclusive interview to India First after the launch of the tree plantation project in Bhubaneswar.

“Planting more trees is therefore the answer. Our volunteers work very sincerely and we will make sure that the young plants are not just planted but are taken care of till they become trees,” he added.

Under his leadership, a similar level of diligence has been seen at the Directorate of Investigation of Odisha. A few days ago, news broke that the department has achieved its best ever results in all parameters, including highest ever cash seizure and highest detection of concealed income in the state. The quiet efficiency and clinical effectiveness with which Jasthi runs his team of carefully selected officials, while ensuring that no taxpayer is ever harassed by his department even when under investigation, has been lost neither on political and social observers in Odisha nor on the Modi government at the Centre.

Interestingly, as some reliable sources have revealed on condition of anonymity, Jasthi would always visit the Jagannath Temple in Puri to seek blessings before conducting any major I-T raid. His prayers have been answered in more ways than one. All those raids have been successful, with no missteps whatsoever. Also, just before this magazine went to press, Jasthi was promoted as Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Ministry of Finance.

As long as officers like him get a free hand and a favourable environment to do the great work that they so naturally do, Prime Minister Modi’s dream of a national movement for the emergence of a new and improved India will become a reality sooner than later.

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