An increasing number of bureaucrats are taking up corporate jobs. while some have compromised their positions in government, others have made sure this arrangement benefits all parties
By Vishwas Kumar
On December 16, 2010, when a CBI team came to the Noida residence of Pradip Baijal, former disinvestment secretary under high-profile minister Arun Shourie, bureaucratic circles were shocked. The CBI came in connection with a probe against corporate lobbyist Niira Radia for her alleged role in the 2G scam.
The probe revealed that Baijal, who had also held the post of chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, besides serving long stints in the Ministry of Steel and Power, had, soon after retirement, joined Radia’s consulting firm, Neosis. He, however, defended himself saying that a consulting firm would have to hire people with domain knowledge.
This is not the first time that a top bureaucrat has had links with corporates and joined them. But these links, more often than not, start when the bureaucrat is working in the government and this could influence his decisions on vital issues. That’s when the problem starts. There are hundreds of bureaucrats, who, on retirement, are gainfully employed in corporate and peddle their domain knowledge, expertise or connections.
Two others cases showed the negative nexus between corporates and bureaucrats. In 2014, the Income Tax Department caught on tape lobbyist-cum-hawala-dealer Moin Qureshi talking to various people, including former CBI director Amar Pratap Singh. This was to help some “influential businessmen” who were under the CBI’s probe. Singh, who, on retirement was made a member of the UPSC by the then UPA government in 2013, resigned from UPSC in January this year after the NDA government officially disclosed his links with Qureshi before the Supreme Court. Similarly, during CBI’s probe of the Saradha scam, it tumbled upon a close connection between politician-turned-lobbyist Matang Sinh and then home secretary Anil Goswami.
For businessmen, these babus are prized commodities because of their networking skills and experience, which can help them make inroads into the corridors of power.
The symbiotic relationship between a businessman and a bureaucrat, however, begins while the babu is in service. The businessman cultivates him, and an official relationship blossoms into a personal one. Post-retirement, most babus take up jobs in their “friend’s company” or float another one to carry out their jobs. This need not necessarily be a bad thing.
Statistics provided by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) under an RTI in 2010 had revealed that from 2001-2010, at least 150 IAS officers took VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme) to join private firms, companies or NGOs. As per the list first published by India Today, a few also took up commercial assignments (see box). If a bureaucrat wants to take up a commercial assignment within a year of retirement, he has to take the permission of DoPT. How-ever, no permission is needed after that or if an officer resigns from service.
But a new trend has started. Bureaucrats are no more satisfied simply being employees of a private company. They want a percentage of the profits earned for their work, a kind of partnership. And there are various stages where they can help to beat competitors—in making policies, framing rules and in formulating, awarding or negotiating a contract.
And in a new trend, groups of bureaucrats come together to form a loose association to provide their “services”. They camouflage their lobbying activity in fancy names such as consulting, public relations and NGO activities. A website with a telephone number and an email address is the only investment needed to start a business.
These consulting firms deal in niche sectors such as defense, security, telecom, corporate taxes and energy, often corresponding to those government departments where these bureaucrats have worked. On an average, a bureaucrat’s tenure lasts for 30-35 years, a long time to build mutual trust and a personal connection. This, together with experience and juniors who will help them out, leads to a convenient set-up for both the corporate and the bureaucrat.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Take the case of Mukesh Kacker, a 1979 IAS officer, who took VRS to float a consulting firm with his daughter. Their company, Kacker & Daughter Infrastructure Consul-tancy Services Pvt Ltd, claims to be “a policy advisory and business strategy advisory company, offering a variety of services, both to governments as well as to the private sector, across a wide spectrum of sectors—physical infrastructure, core economy, economic
regulation, competition policy and law and governance”. Their website claims that it “is driven by the knowledge and skills of a group of widely experienced professionals—civil servants, diplomats, public sector executives and private sector professionals, lawyers—who bring tremendous value to the com-pany. The PM&AG (Professional Manage-ment and Advisory Group) not only charts the strategy of the company but handles specific projects, assigning them to a combination of members and experts, depending upon the nature of the project.”
In the list of advisors, the company also lists the name of Ashok Pratap Rai, who had held senior positions in the government and the private sector. His bio-data claims he “started his career as an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) with the minister of telecommunications. He has also been associated with the ministries of railways, water resources and petroleum & natural gas”. In the private sector, “Mr Rai has been associated with a number of infrastructure development companies such as Club One Air, Gujarat Positra Port Infrastructure Ltd, Gujarat Pipavav Port Ltd, Gujarat Pipavav Shipyard Ltd, Mumbai Integrated SEZ Ltd and Himachal Tourism & Infrastructure Development Ltd,” it claims.
Then, there is former home secretary GK Pillai, who, on retirement, joined venture capitalist firm IvyCap Ventures as chairman. Last September, the firm raised Rs. 244.5 crore for its maiden fund from domestic investors, which it wants to invest in early-to-growth-stage start-ups (from incubation to growth) founded by graduates of select top colleges like IITs and IIMs. Pillai’s bio-data boasts that he sits on the board of various companies. Some of them are: Hindustan Petro-leum Corporation Limited, Zuari Agro Chemicals Limited, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited and Data Security Council of India, and in all of them, he served as director.
(From above-down) Former home secretary GK Pillai, now chairman of IvyCap Ventures; former CAG VK Shunglu, now chairman of Arbitrage Research Institute; former telecom secretary PJ Thomas, now part of CTAR; 1979 IAS officer Mukesh Kacker, who started Kacker & Daughter Infrastructure Consultancy Ltd
LINING ONE’S NEST?
There is also the case of another high-profile bureaucrat, VK Shunglu, former Comptroller & Auditor General of India, who also headed the committee to probe Commonwealth Games fraud during the UPA II government. He is now chairman of a think-tank called Arbitrage Research Institute, which claims to “work with the Government of India and state governments and engages with a number of stakeholders across the spectrum to find delimitative answers using quantitative and qualitative techniques”. Shunglu is also chairman of the DPS Society.
There are also officers who claim to be engaged in “public awareness” work. Among them is Sudhir Chandra, former chairman of Central Board of Direct Taxes, who, after retiring in May 2011, floated an organization called CTAR (Center for Tax Awareness & Research), which claims to be “India’s first tax research center being anchored by former tax officers”. He explains on CTAR website how he started it: “For a while I was restless (on retirement). Already, I had got myself enrolled as a member of the Bar Council of Delhi and as an advocate of the Delhi High Court Bar Association… Yet, I was not sure how I could help the vast majority of taxpayers who somehow maintain a safe distance from the taxmen. I then tossed the idea of creating a tax think-tank with some of my former colleagues and highly spirited individuals.”
Other retired bureaucrats who are part of CTAR are: Ex-telecom secretary PJ Thomas, who was forced to resign from the post of Central Vigilance Commission, former CBI director DR Karthikeyan, former chairman of the Central Board of Excise and Customs SK Goel, and Indian Revenue Service officers RK Sharma, BN Dutta and Anjani Kumar.
It is obvious these bureaucrats have reinvented themselves innovatively even after retirement. Talk about a second innings.