Celebrated IAS officer Guruprasad Mohapatra, who succumbed to COVID-19, conferred with Padma Shri

Guruprasad Mohapatra despite his own illness continued to work on distribution of oxygen when the pandemic was at its most dreadful.

Guruprasad Mohapatra, a senior bureaucrat known for his administrative acumen who succumbed to COVID-19 last year, was conferred with Padma Shri on Tuesday.

“I am very grateful that the government has recognised his contribution. I am very humbled by the gesture. There is sadness mixed with happiness on this occasion,” Anjali Mohapatra, the wife of the senior officer, told The Hindu.

His family, colleagues and friends recall how despite his own illness in April, 2021, the then Secretary of Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) continued to work on distribution of oxygen when the pandemic was at its most dreadful and deaths from the disease were at their peak in the country.

“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 co-ordinate efforts from there. To him work was worship,” recalls Ms. Mohapatra.

Guruprasad Mohapatra breathed his last exactly two months later, on June 19,2021, following post-COVID-19 complications.

His colleagues credit him for his role during the first wave when he along with colleagues Ravi Capoor, the then Secretary of Textiles Ministry, and P.D. Vaghela, the then Secretary of Pharmaceuticals, who headed the Empowered Group on medical equipment, was instrumental in turning the country into an exporter of PPE kits, masks and ventilators from being an importer of these items.

“He was extremely driven, proactive and also drove his team to work hard. But at the same time, he had a minute for humour, was very humane and would always remember to enquire about the well-being of your family. Many lose steam over a period of time, but he hadn’t. He was going full steam,” says Sumita Dawra, Additional Secretary at DPIIT.

The Gujarat cadre officer of 1986 batch proved his mettle in the State government when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister, before he was moved to the Centre as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce and then Chairman of Airports Authority of India.

As Surat municipal commissioner he mobilised huge investment in a number of capital intensive infrastructure projects and for beautification of the city, and as member administration at the Gujarat Electricity Board he led reforms in the power sector in the State. Posted as the Municipal Commissioner of Ahmedabad he is known for the Sabarmati riverfront and Kankaria lakefront projects and for getting the city the World Heritage tag by UNESCO.

While at the Airports Authority of India, he oversaw the privatisation of six airports in the second phase of privatisation which came a decade after the first batch of airports, including those at Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, were handed over to private operators.

“He was an excellent administrator, adept at finding solutions to problems — all of which he accomplished without ever offending or hurting anyone. Guru was great at cultivating friendships and would go out of his way to help people,” says Mr. Vaghela, a long-time friend and a batchmate.

“I didn’t know about all the people he was close to. That was another life he led outside the house. At home he discussed everyday things, family matters, movies. This he inherited from my father-in-law, who was also close to very important people but that was never discussed,” Ms. Mohapatra says about the son of renowned Odiya writer and Sahitya Akademi winner, Mohapatra Nilamani Sahu. Ms. Mohapatra met her husband during their time at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Jimut Baran, the younger of two sons, sums up his father’s legacy best, “the civil servant in him is now etched in eternity with the Padma Shri. But more than his official side, what is most important is that he was a great human being who touched many lives, which will live on.”

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