Millennium Post

Remembering Nitish Sengupta, the impeccably polite pioneer

Nitish Sengupta, erstwhile chairman of the Board of Reconstruction for Public Sector Enterprises (BRPSE) who died on Sunday, was one of those in my life.

I had just started on the Public Sector Enterprises (PSE/PSU) beat for Governance Now in May this year and had no clue at all on how to go about it and who all to contact for stories. That was when I was told about Sengupta and was asked to meet him.

I called him up and, to my surprise, he said yes and asked me to come to his office the next day. He was unlike many other senior officers I had met. The first meeting, the introduction meeting as we call them, was very informative. He talked about various issues involved with sick PSUs and their revival packages. Two days later, we met again for a long interview on the same subject. It turned out to be a good interview – in fact the first big story in my new beat. He spoke on how the government is not in a position to give more money to sick PSUs (read the interview here). I kept meeting Sengupta regularly after that – for inputs on different stories but, more importantly, understand the subject and clarify the doubts in my mind. After a few meetings, I remember asking him his age. He asked me to guess it. I could not. He then smiled and said he had turned 80 years a day before. I was surprised, pleasantly of course. At that age, how could someone be so active, I asked myself. I asked him what motivates him to keep working. He smiled and answered with a counter-question: ‘What would I do sitting at home?’

He was always full of energy and ready to talk on issues close to his heart. I met him even four days ago, on 31 October, at a BRPSE conference. And like any other day, he glibly answered all questions thrown at him by journalists. After the conference, we discussed a few things and decided to meet again on 5 November. But on 4 November, minutes after reaching office, an email from his office landed on my inbox. Nitish Sengupta passed away on Sunday, 3 November, following a heart attack. He is survived by his two daughters. Rest in peace, sir.

Sengupta was a rare combination of an academician, administrator and politician. He studied history at the Presidency College in what was then Calcutta, joined the IAS in 1957 and held positions such as the revenue secretary of the government of India and member-secretary at the Planning Commission. He also represented the country in the UN Commission on Transnational Corporations and was elected as its chairman 1981-82. As deputy secretary in the department of company affairs in 1968, he had been a diligent builder of the licence raj.

After retirement in 1992 he became the director general of International Management Institute (IMI) and built it from scratch to help it become a leading management school. He was elected to the 13th Lok Sabha from Contai (West Bengal) seat on a Trinamool Congress ticket, but later joined the Congress in 2004 after the UPA-I government came to power. He was heading the
BRPSE since 2007.

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