Recently, I read ‘Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths’, a book written by P C Parakh, former Coal secretary. He has penned his experience as a career bureaucrat; and extra light has been thrown on issues of coal block allotment. Most of you would be aware that he is one of the main accused along with Mr. Birla in the coal scam. This book of course presents his side of the story. I am not getting into the merits of the case and neither am I qualified to do so. This blog is what perception I have formed about the man based on the book and after listening to his interviews in the media when the scam was in public domain.
First and foremost this book should form a part of basic reading for anybody who is aspiring to become a bureaucrat. When I was in school, bureaucracy, or getting a job in the government especially the IAS was the ‘Dream Job’. My father has spent his entire life working in the public sector undertaking and like good PSU officers he also wanted his son to join a PSU or government. Unfortunately, electronic engineering and MBA were not high scoring subjects in UPSC written exam and hence practical issues forced me to look for alternative subjects. By that time I had already got admission in IIM and lost interest to mug. Having said that I also happened to read a book called ‘English August’ by Upamanyu Chatterjee, which gave a perspective of what life awaited me had I got through.
Most of us who have spent their career in the private sector cannot relate to or appreciate the working conditions. Imagine working in an environment where your boss gives you an order to do something which is exactly opposite of what you are supposed to do; and that too, not in writing.
In the book, Parakh talks about a real life case where 3 people were caught for corruption and post due confession, could not be sacked. In fact, it was hilarious that the labor minister was defending the accused saying that those people could not be sacked. If this is work ethic of any PSU, it is incredibly idiotic on our part to expect miracles from the public sector on the bourses. Any organization that cannot sack a corrupt person is doomed to fail - it will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
That incident also reminded me of a fund manager who never touched any public sector stocks. He was convinced that PSUs are doomed to fail and never failed to tell about MTNL. In olden days, public sector attracted the best of talent and were led by men of stature and highest integrity. In the recent past, there has been an overall collapse of moral fibre in Indian society, for a number of reasons which I will not dwell into. This period also coincided with options in the non-government job market, post 1990s so the best of the talent were no longer flocking to IAS and PSUs.
There are other hilarious examples of “superior management” especially preparing heavy lunches when the request is for “simple” meal, scotch in the afternoon and temple visits andprasad. Corruption is deeply ingrained in our society whether it is private sector and public. In fact he gives examples of corruption within private sector also. Whether corruption is higher in the public sector or private sector remains a point of debate. And plans by AAP to weed out corruption from India will remain on paper only.
Yet, the book leaves me optimistic about India. In spite of working in such a negative environment, with bosses who have limited understanding of the domain, an honest bureaucrat made it to the top-most post. I am sure there are many more such examples. Our society is undergoing a churn and I am sure we will emerge stronger and better.