|Aditi Phadnis / February 23, 2021|
Generally, in the administrative sector, there are mostly soft-spoken bureaucrats who tend to be soft and tend to bend slightly, but in this regard, Rahul Khullar, a 1975 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer was completely different. His vocal acumen was the greatest feature and he did not bow down to anyone. His quality was clearly visible till the last moments of his life. He was seriously ill but signed an open letter to the government along with his other colleagues, suggesting that the government listen to the agitating farmers as it was believed to violate the federal spirit of the Constitution It was that the farmers were not consulted on the agricultural laws passed in the Parliament, which could have affected them the most.
He also disappointed many of his colleagues because of this feature. But whenever advice was sought from Khullar, he did not make any concession regarding the position and position of anyone and said what he thought was right. He returned from Arunachal Pradesh after a short posting in 1991 and spent five years in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). During that time, the then PV Narasimha Rao government appointed one of his own teachers Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister in the Delhi School of Economics, who later also became the Prime Minister in the United Progressive Alliance government. Manmohan Singh needed a personal secretary and Khullar, his student and topper of his batch, got the job after a formal interview.
The budget was to be presented only a few weeks later. On the eve of Budget Day, Khullar was called to the Finance Minister’s office. Singh put his wrist in Khullar’s hand and asked, ‘Rahul, just look, do I have a fever?’ He said, ‘No, no, sir.’ Khullar realized that this moment was the same as the first day of school when a student complained of stomach ache. He said, ‘You will be absolutely fine sir.’
However, later some of his colleagues were surprised that when Singh became Prime Minister in 2004, he was not included in the PMO. But Khullar was doing another important work at that time. He is one of the few bureaucrats who served in different posts in the Ministry of Commerce for more than seven years and eventually he also held the post of Secretary. There is hardly anything in the commerce sector that he is not aware of.
It is the year of 2010. There was 60 million tonnes of food grains in the country, although only 21 million tonnes of buffer stock was required in the country. At that time, some people believed that the ban on export of food grains should be lifted while some believed that it should not be done.
The argument in favor of exports was quite strong. Due to the frequent good crops, the quantity of food grains in the country had increased while the drought was being predicted in the world’s wheat stocks like in countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. But with a stubborn procurement policy and unknown fear, India was blocking itself from making the move to export grain to the international market. At that time the government had a lot of food grains available and it was also fixing the market prices.
Khullar was the Commerce Secretary at the time and his only mission at that time was to somehow convince the government that selling it instead of rotting grain was a better option and even with better sentiment than it would in other countries should be sent. He was making a lot of energy in the Group of Ministers, giving his argument that the ban on export of food grains should be lifted.
Although the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was also angry with him, but Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia came to the rescue of Khullar and said, “Khullar is Commerce Secretary, what else do you expect him to say?” Eventually, the government was impressed with his talk and decided to export small amounts. But by then international prices had come down from $ 350 per ton to $ 250.
In his place, someone else would have preferred to remain silent but Rahul Khullar could not do so. He had no qualms in apologizing but was not at all afraid of taking the risk and saying the right thing. Khullar once told this reporter that any bureaucrat, no matter how smart, may make a mistake. But he believed that not doing anything for fear of mistake is not forgivable.
He made this point in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) report on valuation and pricing of spectrum when he became its chairman.
Khullar’s remarks came in the context of the controversial remarks of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the valuation of spectrum which focused on the spectrum allocation scam. He said that it is impossible to guess what the price of spectrum will be 5 or 10 years from now.