He drifted off into abrupt silences while reminiscing those good old days in his eloquent English. Those meaningful pauses spoke volumes about C Thomas IAS (Retd), who entered his hundredth year on April 25. This veteran, who has not yet fallen prey to his wrinkles, is the oldest living retired Indian Administrative Services’ officer of the Kerala cadre. While languidly sifting through his memories, Thomas recalls the significant moments of his illustrious career in long flawless sentences.
“It was the early 1960s, I was serving as the Finance Secretary of the state (1962-66). As Kerala was under the President’s rule, I had the privilege to represent the state at the National Development Council Meeting before the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. All other southern states, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, were represented by ministers Sanjeeva Reddy (who later became the President of India), C Subramaniam (who later became Central Finance Minister) and B D Jatti (later became the Vice President of India) respectively,” says Thomas.
Thomas, who had thoroughly researched on the subject, could make a strong impact on the listeners, when he enlisted the agricultural details of each and every state with numbers. “I had officers come up to me to congratulate me and say that with my speech I made them all proud,” says Thomas. The then Chief of Secretary the state, who was supposed to attend the meeting skipped it knowing that Thomas could hold on his own.
Thomas was lured away by the Travancore Civil Services (TCS) from a prospective legal career, while he was doing his law degree at Law College, Thiruvananthapuram, in the late 1930s. It was the then Governor Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer who brought about TCS following the lines of British-formed Indian Civil Service (ICS).
“ICS was one of the most coveted exams of the time. In order to write the exam one had to travel to other countries. TCS was following the same syllabus and format, I have heard my father mentioning it once that someone who didn’t get through TCS passed the ICS test,” says Roshan Thomas, the younger daughter of Thomas.
Roshan, a retired English professor says that even though her father would not admit it, he was somebody who had strove hard for people’s rights such as widows pensions during his service years.
In 1946, Indian Administration Service was formed and Thomas became part of the first batch of IAS. During those days, there was no demarcation as Indian Police Service (IPS) and IAS, hence, he was allocated as Assistant Superintendent of Police for a very short span. It was during his spell as Chief Rice Officer in Karachi - he had to collect rice and bring it to Travancore - that India got its independence.
“The rice used to come from Burma. It was Tamilians who was working for Burmese cultivators. When the Second World War broke, Tamilians fled to India. Leaving the rice fields barren. Even though the principal ingredient in Malayalis’ meals is rice, we always faced the dearth of rice. It always used to come from other state or countries,” says Roshan.
In 1947, when the partition riots broke out, Thomas had to flee from Karachi on a ship with his wife and one-year-old son Ravi Thomas. In 1953, Thomas was appointed as the Agriculture Director of Travancore Cochin, making him the first officer with no agriculture background.
But he put his heart and soul into learning the nuances of agriculture. His contributions to food and agriculture are immense. It was during his time as the Agriculture Director that the Plantation Corporation of Kerala was installed leading to the golden era of rubber cultivation in Kerala.
He was also instrumental in publishing ‘Karshakashree’, a magazine that gives insightful tips on agriculture. He also helped in setting up Indo-Norwegian Fisheries Project.
When asked about how minsters used to treat officers Thomas says they were quite cordial and respectful towards the IAS officials. He doesn’t agree to the common belief that today’s officers and ministers are not sincere in their work. “In all times there are good and bad officials, it has nothing to do with the times,” he says with conviction.
“While serving as the Finance Secretary, I came to know that the pensions were held back for certain government employees. I have employed someone to look into the matter. I instructed him to visit each and every household and inquire about the issue. Thus we cleared the issue within weeks and they received their pensions in a month’s time,” says Thomas. Thomas had also played significant role in including widows pensions in one of state’s budgets. Thomas retired as the Chief Secretary in 1973, following which he served as the first Chairman of Kerala Land Development Corporation for 3 years.
Former President V V Giri and K Karunakaran (Former Chief Minister of Kerala) have always described Thomas as one of the best administrative officers of Kerala.
Thomas says those who want to enter into the service should have three qualities in them, hardwork, honesty and integrity and if you follow these mantras Indian Administrative Service is the best place to be.