Going beyond the call of duty

Om Prakash Kasera, an IAS officer of the 2012 batch is a dreamer and achiever but rather than dwelling and brooding on the future, he prefers to live by the moment and summons all his sensitivity and conscience into his work when required. The overwhelmingly humanitarian work he did to pull out 50,000 students stuck in Kota during the lockdown crisis was phenomenal by all standards 

Going far beyond the call of duty, doing more than others expect is what excellence is all about and it comes from striving, maintaining the highest standards, looking after the minutest of details and going the extra mile. That yardstick makes Om Prakash Kasera, an IAS officer of the 2012 cadre from Rajasthan, not just a hero who orders his men into the battle but one who goes into the battle and fights it himself.

In a span of just 8 years, Mr Kasera has grossed the reputation of a hands-on officer who was once rejected for a call centre job but then he went on to ace the Chartered Accountant’s exam, was selected for IIM Calcutta and followed it up by cracking the mother of all exams – the Civil Services — without leaving his job and without any coaching. His life and journey are a clear example that failure is at best temporary and with dint of hard work, one can triumph his/her goalposts.

Down to earth but very seized of his responsibilities, Mr Kasera is one of whose officers whose good work far exceeds the official line. It is borne out by the manner in which he handled the tricky latitudes and laced them with magnanimity and compassion. His academic record speaks volumes — All India topper in CS Inter, All India topper in ICWA Inter, All India 2nd rank in CS Final, All India 2nd rank in CWA Final, All India 17th rank in CA Final, Gold Medalist in MBA and 1st rank in B.Com and many more — are ample testimony of a man for whom excellence was a watchword.

Although his core area of expertise has been Finance, Mr Kasera did not want to rest just on his earlier laurels and chose to chuck it for the IAS. Probably that has something to do with his resolve to put in his best foot forward in whatever he aims at. That sense of urgency was palpable as he reeled out his journey towards Civil Services and after. “Getting into the Civil Services was a long cherished dream. After completing my CA, I took up a job in ONGC. Even at that stage, IAS was a distant dream but I wasn’t the one to give up. The opportunity presented itself t the Dehradun ICS Academy. At the annual event where prominent academicians, IFS and IAS officers came together, I took part in the debate competition as representative of the ONGC. Looking at the halo around the top officers, gave me the much needed momentum and stimulation. That was the trigger.”

“It’s all written in the destiny like in Paulo Coelho says it in ‘The Alchemist’ that when you desire something from the bottom of the heart, the whole world conspires for you to achieve it. I came from a modest, rural background and had no access to good schooling, books, friends and mentors. There was no coaching, no mock tests. Until I had completed my graduation in Commerce, I hadn’t even heard of CA and MBA. Thanks to some friends who had enrolled for CAT and RMAT, who filled up my form for the latter, I got 4th rank and enter the best B-school in the state. Given my humble financial background, at very low cost! After doing CA, I was selected for the World Bank but had to leave in two months because of technical hitch with the CA institute. When I was preparing for the IAS Prelims, I was not even aware of the syllabus. Forget that, I did not have even pen and pencil to write the exam. My strong background in Commerce saw me through.”

Currently the Joint Secretary, Mines Department, Mr Kasera has had 8 postings so far, each one testing his skills o the fullest and him proving equal to them. As he put it across: “Whatever the posting, what matters in how as an officer you can make difference to the society.” The officer gave a sterling account of himself but he really rose to the occasion as the Collector of Kota district when he helped over 50,000 students reach home safely in the wake of nation-wide lockdown in March 2020. When the students were stranded, he was flooded with calls from concerned parents and teachers of the NEET and JEE aspirants.

Escorting over 50,000 students home safely was quite a daunting task that not only demanded proper planning and sensitivity but also logistics. “The parents were worried sick for their children. Back in Kota, the eateries had shut down with the pandemic looming large. The magnitude of the situation was enormous. Most of the students stuck were teenagers unable the gauge the gravity. My one thought was to ensure they were provided with food and keep them motivated. I took these initiatives simultaneously counseling them through videos. Into Lockdown 2, the breaking point was near. I needed to interact with the state and central governments. It was tremendously satisfying that no one was starved and all could be reached home without getting infected,” he pointed out.

Mr Kasera was bewildered and humbled when he was inundated with calls, SMSs and appreciated in the social media after that. “I was just doing my job but I was mighty relieved when the bus carrying the last of the students pulled out of the Kota bus station on 12th May, 2020. Each year Kota – “the coaching capital of India” – bursts at its seams to host the thousands of JEE and NEET aspirants who migrate to the city to prepare for their exams. Once the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown were declared, the situation became precarious for these kids who had come from across the country. “I was in a constant state of fear about these students. Loneliness, anxiety, and depression can do terrible things to these young minds and my prime focus was to ensure their safe departure from Kota,” explains Kasera. He made sure that the institutions had roped in psychologists to conduct sessions with these students to talk them out of the fears that they were experiencing. “For every 40 to 50 students we tried to get a counselor who could help them navigate and articulate their feelings,” he revealed.

The ticklishness of the situation was not just about the welfare of students. “There was a point when he had to face a barrage of calls from concerned parents, not to speak of the frantic calls from various state departments, says Mr Kasera and it took several rounds of discussion and dialogue with the central government that he managed to get the go-ahead to start sending these students back. That was the moment he breathed a sigh of relief.

For all the appreciation on the social media and messages of gratitude that he received in the aftermath of the incident, Mr Kasera is not much of a social media person. “For a while I was on Facebook but not very interactive. Apart from lack of time, I find that after a while it starts intruding your personal space. Yes, you have your fans and trolls but the negativity starts getting to you. The 50,000 tweets in a day-and-trending haven’t done anything to wean me. It’s a personal decision. It is for moments like these where one gets to serve the people that I entered this profession. I am happy I have these memories to look back on and cherish,” he clarifies.

He recalls fondly how as Director, Primary Education he was able to facilitate recruitments after court clearance, paving the way for employment of teachers. During the posting at Jaisalmer, in the time of elections, he made the life of teachers on poll duty by providing them with logistical help. “After the elections, I received an evocative letter signed by an unknown person on behalf of the entire fraternity, effusively praising the facilities provided. These are better than any material rewards that become your prized possessions.”

Content with work, Mr Kasera feels that when you choose to give work your best shot, recreation takes a backseat. “It’s all work and little play but God is kind. Being rotated in job gives me the exposure I enjoy and the opportunity to take newer challenges. At the end of the day, satisfaction matters the most. I was an avid reader once with a little music and gaming thrown in between. Squeezing time out for recreation is tough. I find relaxation in playing with my two kids. This is a good age to be with kids.”

As someone who has imbibed the wisdom and optimism of Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ and the profound philosophical system called Objectivism of Ayn Ran’s ‘Fountainhead’ and Atlas Shrugged, it is not far to seek what goes into the making of Om Prakash Kasera. By his own admission he is a happy-go-lucky person who takes each day as it comes. He dreams but does not plan too much and prefers to go by the flow. That to him is the definition of work-life balance.