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The New Handshake: Civil Services and Private Sector

Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa has tendered his resignation and is moving on to private sector. Many civil servants have followed this route in the past, including the former Indian Ambassador to the United States

The search for greener pastures has been a moving force for the human race. Millions of year ago, our great ancestors left the shelter of their caves and spread into the grasslands of Africa, Americas, Mid-Europe and Asia. Therefore, when the Election Commissioner Mr Ashok Lavasa decided to leave his prestigious job of a senior civil servant for the private sector (Phillipines based Asia Development BankADB) three weeks ago, he was probably lured by the call of his ancient genes.

There is nothing wrong with Mr Lavasa’s decision, actually. One of the biggest features of Indian democracy is that it allows everyone to follow his dreams and aspirations.

Ashok Lavasa with family, at Amarnath Yatra

But Mr Lavasa’s decision is also a manifestation of another truth: Indian civil services, powerful, prestigious and awe-inspiring it may be, cannot be the last port of call for the overtly ambitious. On the contrary, it can be – and has been- an effective launch pad for the risk takers.

The Trend Setters

Hardly two decades ago, Mr Rajeev Talwar, senior IAS officer of UT cadre happened to be the favourite “media boy’’ of print and television channels. Always jovial, always helpful. And then one morning, he shocked everyone by announcing his decision to quit the IAS- right in the midst of a promising career.

Rajeev Talwar

Why he did so became clear in the next few days, with an official announcement from DLF, one of the biggest realty players of North India.Mr Talwar was absorbed by the DLF at a fairly senior position. Today, he is the CEO of DLF.

And then there is the case of Ms Meera Shankar, the high-profile IFS officer of 1973 batch who also served as India’s ambassador to the United States. 

Ms Meera Shankar With the then US President Barack Obama, during her tenure as the Indian Ambassador to the United States

Ms Meera too hopped on to the private sector. As of now, she is on the board of directors of ITC and Adani Transmission.

Ms Meera Shankar

Coming back to Mr Ashok Lavasa, the latest entry in the list of civil services to private sectors movers, his premature exit from the Election Commissioner is the second time in India’s history that a commissioner has left before the completion of his term. Earlier, Election Commissioner Nagendra Singh had also departed from the EC, to become a judge in the International Court of Justice, The Hague.

In an official statement, ADB has announced that Mr Lavasa will succeed Mr Diwakar Gupta, whose tenure ends on August 31, 2020.

A 1980-batch IAS officer of Haryana cadre, Mr Lavasa served in multiple positions in the Government of India as well as the Haryana Government. He has been Principal Secretary and Finance Commissioner (Renewable Energy Sources and Power) as well as District Magistrate in Jind and Gurgaon districts of Haryana.

Ashok Lavasa is also a wildlife buff, and her wife an accomplished photographer

 Mr Lavasa’s foray in the Centre began in 2014, when he was appointed the Civil Aviation Secretary. Subsequently, be became the Environment, Forests and Climate Change Secretary in the Union Environment Ministry. His last posting before joining the Election Commission was the Finance Secretary of India.

Well Established Trail

In fact, Mr Lavasa is walking on the trail prepared and lit by other civil servants before him. The illustrious list includes:

  • Vinod Rai, the 1972 batch Kerala cadre AIS officer who served as the powerful Comptroller and Audit General of India (CAG). At present, he is on the boards of director of Apollo Tyres and IDFC.
  • GK Pillai, a 1972 batch Kerala cadre IAS officer who served as the Home Secretary and Commerce Secretary in the Union Government and was also the chief negotiator for India at WTO. Mr Pilla is now in the board of directors of Zuari Agro Chemicals and Berger Paints. He is also the independent and non-executive Director of Adani Ports.
Former Union Home Secretary G K Pillai
  • S Narayan, former Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister is now on the board of director of Dabur India, Apollo Tyres, and Godrej Properties.
  • Ravi Kant, who served as an IAS officer (of West Bengal cadre) for 12 years before joining the corporate sector as the managing director of Ramkya Enviro Engineers Limited. He is now the director of infrastructure consultancy firm Voyants Solution Private Limited.
  • Vigilance Commissioner K V Chowhary, who joined Reliance Industry as an independent director within four months of his retirement.
  • M. Damodaran, 1971 batch IAS officer from Tripura who served as the chairman of SEBI, IDBI and in the finance ministry is now on the boards of Larsen & Toubro, Hero MotoCorp, Tech Mahindra, CRISIL, Biocon and Experian India. He is also the current Non-Executive Independent Director and Chairman of the Board of Indigo.

It’s an ever expanding list and Mr Lavasa will certainly not be the last of the civil servants to move over to the lucrative private sector. Or look at it this way. The emerging private sector in a fast developing India is a beacon which will not be easy to resist- even for the magisterial civil servants.

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