Vol 2, PW 24 (23 Dec 98) People & Policy

INTRODUCTION: In Petrowatch dated 9/12/98 we reported how Nirmal Singh, Joint Secretary, Refineries, was mysteriously transferred from his seat as the government's representative on the board of the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) following his opposition to the IOC tie-up with Reliance Petroleum.

A correspondent for Petrowatch offers this profile of Singh. Nirmal Singh, a burly 51-year old Sikh, belongs to that rare breed of Indian bureaucrat: extremely hardworking, painfully rude and honest to the core.

In February 1999, Singh, a 1970 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, will complete his five-year tenure in the oil ministry as Joint Secretary in charge of refineries. In these five years, Singh has ruffled quite a few feathers, in and out of the ministry, mainly because of his shockingly rude behaviour.

Despite this, he has until now remained unscathed because of his honesty. Only recently did he have to pay a heavy price for this honesty when he was unceremoniously removed from the boards of IOC, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum because he dared challenge the might of Indias biggest industrial house: Reliance Industries.

"Reliance is going to make an extra Rs500 crore ($120m) annually at the cost of the Indian tax-payer because of the agreement", he insists, "I was shocked to see that before discussing it in the board meeting, none of the IOC directors had even read the draft agreement. Had I been retained on the board, I would have ordered an immediate inquiry against all those IOC officials who had participated in the drafting of the agreement", Singh is equally bitter about the "gift" culture prevailing in the Indian oil ministry.

No one dares present him with even a box of sweets during the Diwali festive season. One oil company chairman who ventured into his room with a small box of chocolates was ordered to "get out." The man still shivers at the very mention of Nirmal Singh.

Happily married with two school-going kids, Singh loves trimming his beard and moustache. He has simple eating habits and an occasional peg of scotch is all that can be counted among the very few vices that this non-vegetarian Sikh has.

The weaker sex is certainly not his weakness. His room is out of bounds for the bevy of beautiful women employed by oil companies to liaise with the oil ministry officials.

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