Vol 2, PW 26 (20 Jan 99) Midstream & Downstream

Nirmal Singh, Joint Secretary, Refineries, has been given his marching orders, just one and a half months before he completes his five-year term on 28 February.

On 9 January, a terse government notice appeared in the oil ministry saying that all files to Nirmal Singh should be routed through Shivraj Singh, the present Joint Secretary, Exploration. Nirmal Singh has been in the spotlight ever since he went public with objections to Indian Oil Corporation's (IOC) tie-up with Reliance and Essar for the marketing of product from their two refineries in Gujarat.

Nirmal Singh was alone in opposing the deal among government nominees on IOCs board. He made serious enemies when he threatened to launch an inquiry against IOC officials involved in the drafting of the agreement, which he described as "totally one sided".

Nirmal Singhs opposition to the deal amounted to a crusade. He informed everyone of his apprehensions, including senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

He also demanded that the deal be scrapped. Nirmal Singh, however, consistently underestimated the powers of Reliance Industries in official circles.

He was removed from the board of IOC just days before a crucial meeting in which the deal was to be approved. In the absence of any opposition, the board approved the proposal with minor amendments.

Not to give up easily, Nirmal Singh tried to build up public opinion against the deal and began meeting journalists and politicians to drum up opposition - something he had never done. Unfortunately, the strategy backfired as many of those he briefed went behind his back to inform the oil minister and the oil secretary.

As a result, the government has decided to strip him of all remaining powers. Files previously destined for Nirmal Singh, are now being routed through Shivraj Singh.

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