Guide through â€کKafkaesque' maze of Shastri Bhawan

Vol 13, PW 1 (18 Jun 09) People & Policy

Most of you are familiar with how the oil ministry in India works but if you are new, read on for a brief tour through the second floor of Shastri Bhawan, the sparse central Delhi office block and home of the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas.

Top of the pecking order is oil minister Murli Deora, the self-effacing 71-year-old former mayor of Mumbai and indirectly elected member of India’s upper house who lays down the country’s oil and gas policy in consultation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the cabinet. Below Deora is the newly appointed 35-year old minister of state Jitin Prasada, also a MP, who promises to be less of a ceremonial showpiece than his predecessors.

Then we come to the real centre(s) of power that sit in deference to Deora and Prasada in true â€کYes Minister’ style - a â€کKafkaesque’ maze of unelected officials who do all the real work and wield real power with their ability to approve, reject or â€کlose’ critical files. Most senior is RS Pandey, secretary in the oil ministry, who vets all the memoranda, contracts and written material contained in cardboard folders or â€کfiles’ before they reach Deora.

Assisting Pandey are two additional secretaries, S. Sundareshan and PK Sinha, who like him are civil servants from the Indian Administrative Service, which changed its name from the pre-independence British-run Indian Civil Service, but sadly not its outdated 19th century working practices.

Sundareshan reviews all files before sending them to Pandey, except those related to finance, which are handled by Sinha. Below the additional secretaries are four joint secretaries heading distinct divisions: DN Narasimha Raju heads exploration; Apurva Chandra heads marketing and gas; LN Gupta looks after anti-corruption, administration and refineries; while Sunil Jain looks after the overseas ambitions of state-owned companies.

Unlike the others, Jain belongs to the snooty Indian Foreign Service (IFS) whose members think they’re intellectually and culturally superior to their IAS brethren.