Among the Padma Shri winners this year is IAS officer Guruprasad Mohapatra, who has posthumously received the honour for his valiant efforts to mitigate the second wave of COVID-19 in 2021.
April 2021 was arguably the most devastating month for India since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. By the end of the month, daily cases had shot up to more than 4 lakh, and people across the country were suffering due to insufficient resources such as hospital beds, medicines, and oxygen.
At the centre of this chaos were many IAS officers who went out of their way to meet the surging healthcare demand. Among them was IAS officer Guruprasad Mohapatra, Gujarat-cadre officer from Odisha.
As Secretary of the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), he was instrumental in providing oxygen and medication to several hospitals, thus giving many a fighting chance.
“In mid-April, I got an SOS call from a hospital [that was] fast running out of oxygen… There was not much I could have done as a deputy secretary, disengaged from the field. Grasping at straws, I forwarded the message to Mohapatra. An ‘OK’ followed. Within four hours, the hospital had oxygen. It was only much later that I realised that he himself was unwell,” Rai Mahimapat Ray, an IAS officer serving in the Ministry of Finance, wrote for Livemint.
“For him, this was the most important thing [to ensure oxygen supply], because everyday was a difficult situation. I remember him working throughout Sunday (April 19, 2021), the day he was hospitalised. And, when he was taken to the ICU, he continued to coordinate efforts from there. To him, work was worship,” recalled Anjali Mohapatra, his wife, to The Hindu.
On 19 June, exactly two months later, Mohapatra succumbed to COVID-19, leaving a void among his friends, family, and the civil service fraternity.
In Dr. Guru Prasad Mohapatra’s untimely death,India has lost an able administrator. A pioneer, he made unparalleled contributions in reforming the urban development landscape in Gujarat, led many public enterprises with distinction and also steered the commerce & aviation sector. pic.twitter.com/CL6tyj4PQD
— Dharmendra Pradhan (@dpradhanbjp) June 19, 2021
For his bravery of indirectly saving so many lives despite his ill-health, he is being honoured with Padma Shri this year.
In an episode of Mann Ki Baat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Guruprasadji was diagnosed with coronavirus. He was admitted to the hospital, and at the same time, was performing his official duties. He toiled day and night to increase the oxygen producing capacities of the country, and to ensure that oxygen reached far flung areas.”
But Mohapatra’s contribution as a civil servant was beyond the coronavirus-induced pandemic. As an administrative officer, he made several infrastructural developments for people’s welfare, and went on to inspire many, including civil service aspirants.
To celebrate him being felicitated with India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, and the legacy he left behind, we look at his extraordinary efforts since he took charge in 1987.
Of growth and development
Mohapatra was born in Bhubaneshwar to famous Odia writer and Sahitya Akademi award winner, Mohapatra Nilamani Sahu. He studied in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he also met his wife Anjali.
He cleared the UPSC in 1986 and joined Gujarat’s administrative service.
As Surat’s Municipal Commissioner, Mohapatra brought in investments to finance infrastructure projects including solid waste management. He is also known for promoting heritage conservation as the Municipal Commissioner of Ahmedabad. During his tenure, the Sabarmati and Kankaria lakefront projects were beautified and developed.
As the chairman of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), he led the privatisation of six airports and expansion of aviation infrastructure in tier-III cities under the Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik scheme.
As part of DPIIT, he worked to facilitate the ease of doing business and helped India move up 14 positions on the global chart.
It was due to his impeccable trading acumen that he was able to take India from being an importer to an exporter of PPE kits, masks and ventilators, along with his colleagues Ravi Capoor (then Secretary of Textiles Ministry) and P D Vaghela, (then Secretary of Pharmaceuticals), according to Rajiv Gauba, the Cabinet Secretary of India.
Mohapatra dedicated nearly three and half decades of his life to developing the country through various sectors. Even in his final days, he embodied the true spirit of a civil servant by arranging medical equipment.
Edited by Divya Sethu