Major General Sudhir Jatar, known for his distinguished service in the Indian Army and indomitable civic activism, passed away in Pune on Monday night at the age of 91. His last rites were performed at the city’s Vaikunth Crematorium Tuesday morning.
“He was admitted to a private hospital on October 6 due to age-related issues. He passed away last night at about 11.03 pm,” his son Nilkanth Jatar said.
Major Gen Jatar was the youngest son of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Nilikanth Jathar of the Indian Medical Service. He had a distinguished career in the Army. Around the 1980s, he became the resident chief executive of Oil India Ltd, eventually becoming the chairman and managing director (CMD) of Oil India.
Brigadier Raghunath Jatar, Major Jatar’s cousin, said, “He joined the Army as a technical graduate after completing engineering at the College of Engineering, Pune. While in college, he captained both the cricket and hockey teams. He joined the Army as part of the Bombay Group of Engineers and excelled. Later, he took over the infantry brigade, a rare feat for engineers. Here, too, he had a brilliant career.”
Brig Jathar mentioned that during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Maj Gen Jathar commanded the engineer regiment and provided invaluable services to the nation. Later, he was posted in Kashmir’s Uri as Brigade Commander.
Among his key appointments after the war was serving as a staff officer to an expert committee in 1975-76 for the reorganisation of the Indian Army and for assessing external threats to India. He was deputed to Nigeria to train officers of the Nigerian Defence Academy.
As per Srirang Raddi, grand nephew of the veteran activist, he was deputed by the government to the then Oil India Limited to keep the supplies of oil from Assam open and running. He was instrumental in ensuring the supply lines were operational, although Assam in those days was beset with violence and insurgency.
Upon returning to Pune after retirement, he became active in various citizen forums working for civic causes. As per activist and Aam Aadmi Party leader Vijay Kumbhar, Major General Jatar was an active part of the Express Citizen’s Forum led by The Indian Express, Pune. Later, he became involved in the Nagrik Chetna Manch, founded by activists Ajay Bhargava, M Mehendale, and Prakash Kardaley, who was a former resident editor of The Indian Express.
He led the Manch from 2001 to 2018, making him the NGO’s longest-serving president. Under his leadership, NCM tirelessly fought against injustice and unfair practices by powerful politicians and officers, striving for increased transparency in governance by acting as an active pressure group.
Qaneez Sukhrani, who worked with Maj Gen Jatar for many years, said, “He was my mentor and an inspiration. He taught me how to think with both the head and heart together. He emphasised extensive research on topics before addressing them and avoided speaking off the cuff.”
Social media was also abuzz all day with activists and admirers pouring out their tribute to him. Notably, Mahesh Zagde, former municipal commissioner of Pune, wrote, “Social activists are usually met with disapproval from the administration. However, I have always regarded them as crucial pillars of the support system. During my time as PMC municipal commissioner, I had the privilege of encountering a remarkable figure in this regard — Gen Jatar. Sadly he is no longer with us and this is indeed a loss to the world of activism.”
Dr Sushama Date, an activist involved with Deccan Gymkhana Parisar Samiti, also noted Major Jatar’s vital contribution to saving Vetal Tekdi. “He was the reason our Vetal Tekdi remained safe from vested interests over the last 17 years. In 2006, when PMC began construction of Balbharati Road across the slope of Law College Hill, it was thanks to his Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that a stay order was obtained, and the road was scrapped by the high court ten years later. Although PMC has now resurrected the proposed road by including it in the Development Plan, the court order in Maj Gen Jatar’s PIL offers significant protection against this road, as well as other construction projects on this precious green space.”
Sidhartha Jatar, his nephew and a lawyer, reminisced, “I remember meeting the head of corporate affairs in a large MNC for a meeting during the time of my traineeship. He paused for a second after I was introduced and asked me if I was related to Maj Gen Jatar. Then he proceeded to tell me that Sudhir Kaka was a man of great integrity and courage.”
“Most veterans try to remain active after our retirement from the forces. But Maj Gen Jatar was not just active post-retirement, but was a passionate and committed activist,” said Lt Gen BT Pandit (Retd), who is also from the Corps of Engineers.
“Jatar and I commanded Engineer regiments during the 1971 war in Jammu and Kashmir. While my regiment played an offensive role, his regiment was in a defensive role. He was an exemplary officer. He was both calm and intense at the same time, a rare combination of temperaments. In his sad demise, I have lost a great friend,” said Lt Gen Pandit.