Prabh Das quits IAS for possible new role at Bhatinda

Vol 11, PW 21 (06 Mar 08) People & Policy

Oil ministry joint secretary Prabh Das looks set to become the first CEO of the upcoming 9m t/y refinery at Bhatinda in Punjab, following his surprise resignation as the country’s top bureaucrat charged solely with refineries.

PETROWATCH learns Das went personally to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on (Monday) February 25 to submit his resignation from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), which he joined in 1981 from West Bengal. “I put in my papers on February 25,â€‌ confirms Das, when contacted by this report.

Asked why, he replied: “Personal reasons.â€‌ Das said the government would now decide whether to accept or reject his resignation and work out how soon he could be released from his job as joint secretary refineries.

Das declined to confirm that he is indeed taking over as CEO of the Bhatinda refinery, promoted jointly by state-owned HPCL and steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, who each hold a 49% stake, with institutions holding 2%. “I have many options,â€‌ adds Das, “and all the time in the world.

â€‌ Bureaucrats in India rarely leave the IAS, unless pushed out. With its enviable privileges, power and well laid out career paths, they enjoy unparalleled status in Indian society.

But Das had no choice, faced with a major policy shift by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) last November, preventing serving IAS officers from joining the private sector on temporary assignments. Originally the oil ministry wanted to leverage Das’ five-year experience as joint secretary refineries and send him as Bhatinda’s first CEO, while retaining his job with the IAS.

His â€کfile’ was even moved to the Department of Personnel so he could become Bhatinda refinery CEO on March 19, when his oil ministry term ends. But the new PMO directive clearly states no IAS officers can be posted to private companies governed by the Indian Companies Act, 1956 - even private-state partnerships, such the Guru Gobind Singh Refinery project at Bhatinda, which is independent of the government.

Faced with this, Das could either give up the chance to head Bhatinda by staying in the IAS, or quit to become Bhatinda CEO.