Old Hazare hand Sarangi attempting to break Lokpal deadlock


Mumbai : Senior Maharashtra bureaucrat Umesh Chandra Sarangi, who in the past 25 years has resolved several agitations in the state involving Anna Hazare and is negotiating with the social activist to break the Lokpal logjam, has already held two rounds of talks with him on behalf of the government.

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Though officially Sarangi was summoned Sunday, he reportedly met Hazare unofficially earlier in the Tihar Jail, though officials decline to go on record.

Sarangi, additional chief secretary (home), is trying his negotiating skills again with the social reformer to break the impasse over the Lokpal bill and end Hazare’s seven-day-old fast.

About the ongoing negotiations, Sarangi told media Sunday: “I had a few meetings with Hazare recently. A few issues remain to be sorted out.”

A veteran at handling natural disasters, among them the Latur earthquake and Orissa cyclone, 59-year-old Sarangi is facing the biggest challenge of his career – to resolve a political disaster precipitated by the adamant social activist and an apparently confused government.

Earlier on several occasions, the Maharashtra government had relied on Sarangi to pacify Hazare when he raised the banner of revolt. It helped them buy time often to take the next step.

When Hazare launched his fast in April inn New Delhi against the central government, Sarangi played a role through the back channels and persuaded the septuagenarian to relent – at least for the time being.

It was during the ’80s and ’90s that Sarangi – an IAS officer of 1977 batch who served in the rural areas, while handling farmers and co-operative sector problems that he became acquainted with Hazare and his issues.

Sarangi hails from Orissa.

Over the years, the duo developed a good rapport and mutual trust – something that Hazare has never boasted.

Besides, in his three-decades plus career, Sarangi has handled several important assignments with a proven track record and integrity. Referred to as a “walking encyclopedia”, he can off-hand reel off statistics and data on state issues.

According to a senior government official, Sarangi opens a direct dialogue with the opposite party – in the current case, Hazare – without relying on interlocutors, in itself a rarity.

Again, in the classic style of negotiations practiced in some western democracies, he does not speak with anybody except the concerned superior, which ensures that the messages are not diluted.

Before taking over his current assignment in 2010, Sarangi was chairman of the National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD).

Earlier, he had served as director (agriculture), secretary (animal husbandry, dairy development and fisheries, commissioner for cooperation, and Registrar of Cooperative Societies – all crucial departments which gave him a deep insight into rural issues.

He has been the first choice to tackle even natural disasters like the Orissa super-cyclone, handling the situation post-Latur earthquake and the Mumbai floods. He later served as principal secretary to various chief ministers of Maharashtra.

Sarangi has handled sensitive issues of procurement of soybean, cotton, onion, and crushing of surplus sugarcane.

During his stint as collector of Nashik, he prepared a decentralised district development plan which was later picked up as a national model by the Planning Commission of India.

Shortly after taking over as additional chief secretary (home) last year, his first major challenge was to ensure an incident-free cricket World Cup Final held in Mumbai under a shadow of terror threats.