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Whither decades old practice of replying to letters sent to higher ups, including PMO?

By NS Venkataraman*

In the pre-Independent days and for a few decades after independence, ministers, leading men in public life used to acknowledge letters from the public, particularly those with valid criticism or suggestions. This practice, unfortunately, now seems to have gone away.
When Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for the Quit India Movement, my father wrote a letter to him asking whether he should participate in the movement since his father was ill. Mahatma Gandhi replied that he should not do so, since he has an immediate duty to his father and the country has millions of people to take care of the movement.
When I was a student in the Annamalai University, I used to send suggestions to ministers and people who are known as intellectuals, on my views and ideas, for which I used to get quick replies.
I wrote a seven page letter to Rajaji, stressing the importance of world government. My father suggested that such long letter should not be written to Rajaji, as he was an aged person and would receive many letters everyday from India and abroad. However, Rajaji replied in a postcard in his own hand writing” your suggestion is a good one” and signed as C Rajagopalachari.
Before the last fateful trip of Dr CP Ramaswami Iyer to London (he died in 1966 at the age of 86 while on a visit to the United Kingdom), I wrote a letter to him about the importance of linking rivers in India. Dr CP immediately replied asking me to meet him at his residence in Ooty after his return from London to discuss the details.
My father was worried as to how a young person like me of 18 years would discuss with a person of Dr CP’s eminence about such a crucial issue and asked me to prepare details. I started studying the details allotting an hour every day but unfortunately Dr CP passed away in London and the meeting never took place. 
Unlike the earlier days, ministers and others have a number of assistants and communication can be sent fast by emails
During the anti-Hindi agitation days in Tamil Nadu, as a student, I wrote to Gulzarilal Nanda, who was the then home minister, about the feelings of students in Tamil Nadu on “Hindi imposition”. Nanda immediately replied explaining the government’s stand and view and ended the letter stating that “ the very fact there are students like you thinking on these lines give hope”.
I wrote to R Venkataraman, former President of India about the serious environmental issue in Besant Nagar, Chennai, due to the operation of open cremation ground. He immediately replied stating that he forwarded the letter to the Tamil Nadu chief minister and asked me to follow up with the chief minister's office and keep him informed.
Dr CP Ramaswami Iyer
I have continued this practice of writing such letters from my student days till now. I am now 75 years old.
Our trust used to conduct periodical meetings of deprived people like visually impaired women, street hawkers etc. to enable them to state their views and give their suggestions. Many deprived people used to express their views which are remarkable, particularly coming from those who are branded by the society as uneducated and poorly informed.
We would submit the suggestions made by these people to the chief ministers, the prime minister and others. We never receive acknowledgement or suitable reply these days.
In the case of the prime minister, a routine reply would come from the prime minister’s office (PMO) that the letter has been sent to the concerned ministry and that would be the end of the matter.
A few months back, a group of chemical engineers organized a meeting to discuss the prospects for setting up chemical projects in Tamil Nadu. After protracted discussions, we arrived at a view that tapioca/starch-based chemical complex with an investment of around Rs 1,500 crore should be set up in Salem region, where tapioca is grown extensively and chemicals from tapioca like citric acid etc., which are now entirely imported can be produced by eco friendly process.
A pre feasibility report was prepared after spending several man hours and was submitted to the chief minister, concerned minister and several secretaries. So far, even an acknowledgement letter has not been received.
It is said that these days, ministers and political/social leaders get many letters and they cannot be acknowledged individually. This is not true. Unlike the earlier days, ministers and others have a number of assistants and communication can be sent fast by emails.
The above change in conditions in acknowledging and suitably replying to the well meaning suggestions from the public reflect the falling regard for public opinion, amongst those in authority.
---
Trustee, Nandini Voice for The Deprived, Chennai

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