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HomeOPINIONPiyush Goyal - the energetic politician who is always on the move

Piyush Goyal – the energetic politician who is always on the move

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Piyush Goyal is a chartered accountant turned cabinet minister in the Government of India. He is a politician every civil servant would like to serve with.

Having completed 34 years in the Indian Administrative Service and having been empanelled for being considered for the post of Secretary, Government of India, I was eagerly awaiting my posting orders. I had had a very interesting and fulfilling tenure at the Cabinet Secretariat where I was tasked to fast-track projects, each of which had an investment of Rs 1000 crore or more.  In a discussion with those that mattered,  I had even suggested that I wouldn’t mind continuing in the present assignment if the post was upgraded. However, thanks to the CAG report and the consequent judgements of the Supreme Court that chose not to examine the details but based it almost entirely on what CAG had to say, all hell seems to have broken lose in the coal sector. The government was on the look-out for someone who could manage this crisis. I was given a hint that I could be considered for the post. The task was a daunting one but I didn’t mind it. However, hints were also sent to me to call on the Coal Minister, Piyush Goyal even before I got posted. This is something I had never done in the past. Even when late Kalyan Singh chose me to head the Directorate of Information, I called on him only after having been appointed. I had no problem in meeting Ministers if they called me but refrained from doing so on my own lest it gave an impression that I was interested in the assignment. A message also came from Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister to call on the Minister but I politely refused. I wouldn’t do that unless the Minister himself invited me. He didn’t. So, I didn’t go to meet him. None the less I was posted as Officer on Special Duty with the rank of Secretary, Government of India in the Ministry of Coal on the 14th of October, 2014. I took over as Secretary when the incumbent superannuated on 31st of October.

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As I walked into the room of Secretary, Coal housed at Shastri Bhavan, I felt I was walking into a graveyard. The CAG report and what followed had devastated the morale of the officers. Coal production had taken a beating and more than 25 power plants in the country were critical for want of requisite amount of coal. When I met Piyush Goyal he looked a harried man as he was looking after the Power Ministry as well and there was a crisis brewing there too. Despite my reluctance to meet him before being posted in the Ministry, he was warm and welcoming. He appeared impatient and short-tempered but treated me differently, always polite and open to suggestions. There was a lot to be done here and we worked as a team along with the officers of the Ministry. The first task was to draft an Ordinance (Parliament was not in session) to enable auction of coal blocks that had been cancelled by the Supreme Court. The court had gone much beyond what the CAG report had suggested. The CAG had found fault with allocation of such blocks that had been allocated since 2004 but the Supreme Court went over-board and cancelled all the blocks allocated even before 2004. I had never come across such an energetic politician in my entire career as Piyush Goyal. Age was on his side but I wondered when he slept and ate. He was always on the move. Over a period of time, it was telling on his health but he was relentless.

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The issue centred around appointment of Prescribed Authority (PA) to carry out the auction of the coal blocks. Consequent to the cancellation of coal blocks, coal production that was already under stress had taken a severe beating, these had to be re-allocated. The cancelled coal blocks that were producing more than 30 million tonnes were allowed to carry on coal production only till 31st March, 2015. Hence, the allocation had to be done before this date. To carry out this auction, an Ordinance was promulgated.  The PA was to carry out these auctions. Doubting the capability, objectivity and competence of civil servants, specially the IAS, Piyush Goyal wanted to appoint a judge as the PA. I was aghast because with my experience in administration for more than 34 years I was fully aware about what a competent civil servant could accomplish. The key was appointment of the right person. I was also aware of what a judge could and couldn’t. We had a number of rounds of discussion on this issue and he finally relented despite being a position to over-rule me. In certain sense, Piyush Goyal was mature well beyond his age. The auction of coal blocks was carried out seamlessly and came in for appreciation from all.


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No one had expected the auction of coal blocks to proceed as smoothly as they did. There was an all-round appreciation of the transparent manner in which they were conducted. It wasn’t easy and there were mistakes committed as we went along. The beauty was that Piyush Goyal stood by the team and almost always passed on the credit to the entire team. He did even embarrass me on occasions, including a live telecast, as he went overboard to praise me publicly going to the extent of stating that he wondered when I slept. He was a true leader and provided all the support. He was always accessible and after his initial fits of temper never took any member of the team to task publicly. If he had to convey anything adverse, it was always through a private chat or on phone. We did have difference of opinion on a number of issues and, on occasions, discussions were heated, but in the end we all worked as a team.

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Anil Swarup IAS (Retd)
Anil Swarup IAS (Retd)
Anil Swarup is a former 1981 batch, Uttar Pradesh cadre  IAS officer, and was awarded Director's gold medal for "best officer trainee" at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA). He served the Government of India in various capacities for 38 years and went on to become Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy and the Coal Secretary of India. He also served as Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Additional Secretary, Labour & Empowerment, Export Commissioner in the Ministry of Commerce & Industry of India and as the District Magistrate of Lakhimpur Kheri. He couldn’t make it to the “elite” Indian Administrative Service (IAS) on his first attempt but qualified for the Indian Police Service where he worked for one year before clearing IAS in his next attempt. He is today an author of several looks like 'No More a Civil Servant,' ‘Ethical dilemmas of a civil servant’ and ‘Not just a civilservant’. The views expressed are his own.


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