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Mid-career mandarins head for India Inc

September 19, 2007 08:46 IST
A growing number of mid-career bureaucrats have been joining private-public partnership (PPP) initiatives that demand close collaboration between government and private companies, representing a trend that is expected to develop rapidly as the private sector opportunities expand.

Last month, when infrastructure consultancy firm, Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IDFC), announced a PPP with consultants Feedback Ventures and USAID for water and sanitation projects, it was represented by three former bureaucrats.

While one of them was former urban development secretary Anil Baijal, who retired this year, the other two- Sailesh Pathak and Sonia Sethi - are mid-career bureaucrats.

Pathak was an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the 1990 batch and oversaw IDFC's PPP initiatives till he recently joined ICICI Ventures. Sethi is a Maharashtra cadre IAS officer of the 1994 batch and is on deputation as the head of IDFC's western India PPP projects.

These instances are not exceptions. Over the past two years, some 30 mid-career bureaucrats are said to have joined the private sector as COOs, CEOs and partners in consultancies.

J P Rai, for instance, was a bureaucrat for 14 years till he quit as the additional secretary of the Madhya Pradesh environment department a couple of years ago to join Skill Infrastructure. Rai helped the company form a PPP with the Gujarat government to build the country's first private port at Pipavav.

Since then, Rai has switched jobs, joining PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and then returning to Skill. He says it is a healthy thing for bureaucrats to show the private sector the government side of the picture.

There are many who agree with him. Infrastructure Leasing and Finance Corporation (IL&FS) recently had former Maharashtra textiles committee secretary R C M Reddy join the company as CEO of a cluster development initiative in textiles.

IL&FS has been earmarked for PPP in textile parks by the Centre and Madhya Pradesh government.

O P Agarwal, former joint secretary in the transport ministry, recently joined Sethi in IDFC. A 1979-batch Assam cadre officer, he oversees urban transport and infrastructure.

Pure-play private sector jobs are also increasingly attracting many mid-career officials. For instance, Rajeev Talwar, former transport commissioner of Delhi and an IAS officer of the 1980 batch, joined real estate giant DLF as executive director.

Another major puller for bureaucrats is Reliance Industries whose recent recruit was CEO of the Gujarat State Infrastructure Development Board, Jayant Parimal, a Gujarat cadre officer who has spent 17 years in government service. Meanwhile, Dhiraj Mathur, former energy secretary of Madhya Pradesh, recently joined PwC after a two-decade-long government service.

Private sector agencies say mid-career bureaucrats joining the private sector is no accident but actively encouraged by employers.

"Former bureaucrats are like our crutches in the corridors of the government and accelerate processes since they come with a vast knowledge of how the official machinery functions and are armed with a network of acquaintances in the government,'' says R S Ramasubramaniam, vice-chairman, Feedback Ventures, one of 11 consultancies the government has identified for all its infrastructure PPPs.

In fact, Rai of Skill Infrastructure suggests that the government should re-recruit such bureaucrats to gain a better idea of private sector issues. It is uncertain, however, whether there would be many takers for this suggestion. As USAID's Programme Manager and Urban Team Leader, Nabaroon Bhattacharjee points out: "People don't go to the private sector just because they want results for their work. They also go for money."

Former bureaucrats say they can earn annual salaries between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 3 crore (Rs 30 million), often including stock options.

In contrast, a state government secretary earns Rs 34,000 a month while a chief secretary gets about Rs 38,000 per month. However, Shailesh Pathak denies that the money, though great, is the sole attraction. The work environment also counts. "The objectives are clear and the stakeholders are limited here," he said.

Pathak, an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta, predicts that the growing opportunities in the private sector should see the talent drain from the bureaucracy becoming a flood.

For Bhattacharjee, mushrooming of special economic zones is an opportunity that will call for multi-faceted administrative skills.

Rai adds that the absence of a coherent government policy for personnel should also push more mid-career bureaucrats towards the private sector – especially with transfers and promotions increasingly being subject to political whims.

Another major puller for bureaucrats is Reliance Industries which recently recruited CEO of the Gujarat State Infrastructure Development Board, Jayant Parimal, a Gujarat cadre officer who has spent 17 years in government service. Meanwhile, Dhiraj Mathur, former energy secretary of Madhya Pradesh, recently joined PwC after a two-decade-long government service.

Private sector agencies say mid-career bureaucrats joining the private sector is no accident but actively encouraged by employers. "Former bureaucrats are like our crutches in the corridors of the government and accelerate processes. Also, they come with a vast knowledge of how the official machinery functions and are armed with a network of acquaintances in the government,'' says R S Ramasubramaniam, vice-chairman, Feedback Ventures, one of the 11 consultancies the government has identified for all its infrastructure PPPs.

In fact, Rai of Skill Infrastructure suggests that the government should re-recruit such bureaucrats to gain a better idea of private sector issues. It is uncertain, however, whether there would be many takers for this suggestion. As USAID's Programme Manager and Urban Team Leader, Nabaroon Bhattacharjee points out: "People don't go to the private sector just because they want results for their work. They also go for money."

Former bureaucrats say they can earn annual salaries between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 3 crore (Rs 30 million), often including stock options. In contrast, a state government secretary earns Rs 34,000 a month while a chief secretary gets about Rs 38,000 per month. However, Shailesh Pathak denies that the money, though great, is the sole attraction. The work environment also counts. "The objectives are clear and the stakeholders are limited here," he said.

Pathak, an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta, predicts that the growing opportunities in the private sector should see the talent drain from the bureaucracy becoming a flood. For Bhattacharjee, mushrooming of special economic zones is an opportunity that will call for multi-faceted administrative skills.

Rai adds that the absence of a coherent government policy for personnel should also push more mid-career bureaucrats towards the private sector - especially with transfers and promotions increasingly being subject to political whims.