Millennium Post

No More a Civil Servant: Bonds beyond benefit

In first part of the series, Interface with Industrialists, the author chronicles his association with some industry heads, which remained unaffected after his superannuation

No More a Civil Servant: Bonds beyond benefit

In 1993, I got an assignment where I interacted with industry and industrialists. After the Kalyan Singh Government fell in 1992, consequent to the demolition of Babri Masjid, I was posted as Executive Director, Udyog Bandhu. The job was to promote industrialisation in a state recovering from the shocks of the demolition. I took this opportunity to understand the problems of industry. The idea was simple. If I took care of some issues, the word would spread around and promoting industrialisation would become more manageable. It worked. Despite what happened in 1992, investment started flowing into the State within a year. Between 1993 and 1995, large-scale investment was made by companies like Honda and Daewoo. UP was now competing with Maharashtra and Gujarat in attracting investments. I also got an opportunity to interact with many industrialists as the Chief Minister (Mulayam Singh Yadav) travelled to other states to invite investors.

The next opportunity came when I took over as Export Commissioner in the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India. The office was primarily to promote exports from the country. Here too, I adopted the Udyog Bandhu strategy to solve problems of exports. It worked yet again. I got an opportunity to meet with some of the most exemplary exporters from the country.

On being promoted, I could stay in the Ministry as Joint Secretary. However, I chose to take over as Chairman, Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA). This turned out to be an amazing experience as we worked in tandem with the industry to sort out the 'Basmati' intellectual property rights issue.

After a stint of three years in the State, I returned to the Government of India. On this occasion, I was posted as Director General, Labour Welfare, in the Ministry of Labour and Employment. For seven long years, I hardly had any interaction with the industry. It changed after that, as I was asked to head the newly created Project Monitoring Group (PMG) in the Cabinet Secretariat. The objective was to fast-track projects with Rs 1000 crore or more investment. So, it was back to intensive interaction with the investors yet again.

Finally, as Secretary, Coal, Government of India, I saw the good, the bad and the ugly part of the industry.

The industrialists knew that I would travel any distance to address their genuine concern. Barring a solitary experience as Coal Secretary, I do not recall a single instance when any industrialist approached me for an issue that he thought was contrary to the provisions of law or rules. It was a healthy relationship, and I loved every moment of it.

Many of my friends and colleagues warned me that none of these industrialists would respond to one's messages when one was not in a position to help them on account of being out of 'power'. It did not matter to me because, in any case, I was not expecting anything from them. However, my experience post superannuation has been an enjoyable one. Barring one exception, every industrialist I sent a message to responded to my message.

First on my long list of association with industrialists is Naveen Jindal, Chairman, Jindal Steel and Power. As Coal Secretary, I did everything I could do to 'harm' his companies because I thought he was wrong. He was one of the 'winners' of the bid for a coal block critical to his industry, and the bid was not accepted. If I were him, I would never have forgiven Anil Swarup. However, Naveen Jindal turned out to be much taller than I thought he was. After my superannuation, he picked my brains on the future strategy for his company without expecting me to influence any government decision (he knew that I would not do that). He even offered me the chair of one of his companies. I politely turned down his offer, but my respect for him grew.

I met Kumaramanglam Birla for the first time in 2005 when I was Managing Director, Pradeshiya Investment Corporation Uttar Pradesh (PICUP). In this capacity, I was on the board of Indo Gulf Fertilizer which he chaired. I was impressed by his humility and candour. He was extremely polite but decisive. I never thought I would meet him again which, however, I did in 2014 when he dropped into my office (PMG) along with a couple of CEOs to discuss a few problems his companies were facing. When he saw no file on my table, he confessed that it was the first time he saw an officer's table without a file. I explained that since the entire office and files had been digitised, there were no hard files. Duly impressed, he asked his CEOs to see how it could be replicated in his companies. I did have an occasional chat with him on the phone as Secretary, Coal, but that was all. Post-retirement, I had a problem regarding the maturity of an insurance policy that the Birla Group offered. As the issue was not resolved and I was getting frustrated, I messaged Kumaramanglam Birla. His response was prompt. He was not directly associated with the issue at hand. I do not know what he did, but I got my maturity within 48 hours. Here was the head of one of the most prominent groups of industries responding and delivering when he could have easily chosen to ignore the issue. I was of no consequence to him now.

The Jaipurias, Shishir and Sharad, come from my home state, Uttar Pradesh. I had interacted with them on several occasions during my career. However, more intensive interaction happened during the last couple of years of my career when I took over as Secretary, School Education. How they are carrying forward the legacy of their ancestors is genuinely incredible. Now both have them forayed big-time into education. Shishir has recently launched STTAR (Saamarthya Teachers Training Academy and Research), a much-needed initiative. I had occasion to visit some of the facilities and institutions they had created before and after superannuation and was impressed. It was heartening to note that there was no difference in their attitude towards me on either side of my retirement. Both of them find an opportunity to pick my brains on issues relating to school education. However, it makes me wonder whether I have anything worthwhile to offer them with just 20 months of experience in the education sector. It is always a pleasure to interact with them whenever the occasion arises.

While implementing RSBY (National Health Insurance Scheme), I met Sanjeev Shriya, Founder Director of Smart Chip. The scheme was cashless, paperless, and portable. The smart card technology was limited to Sim Cards, Credit and Debit cards. The cards under RSBY were to be distributed to the poor across the country, and the required number was huge. In one of the Seminars, I came across Sanjeev, who had an extremely positive attitude towards resolving issues. He helped us extensively in implementing the scheme in 2008 and the relationship endured even after I changed assignments and superannuated. Sanjeev continues to be a very active member of Nexus of Good (described later in the book).

During the course of my journey as a Civil Servant, I came across many more stalwarts from the industry (outlined in the following article) who came in touch with me when I was an officer but continued to be associated when I ceased to be an officer.

…to be continued

With excerpts from the writer's recently released book, 'No More a Civil Servant'. Views expressed are personal

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