New ministers Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan and Narendra Singh Tomar say no to freebies
NEW DELHI: Two weeks into the tenure of the Narendra Modi-led government, executives of state-run blue-chip firms are already feeling a perceptible change at the Centre. The offices of power minister Piyush Goyal, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan and steel minister Narendra Singh Tomar have not sought freebies such as air tickets, guest houses, personal staff or vehicles for their families or staff members.
This is a decisive departure from the past, executives told ET, admitting that the first task of chairmen of public sector giants after the installation of a new central government often used to be to ensure a fleet of swanky sedans and household helps, among other facilities, to make life easier for the staff of the ministers.
The central ministers have always had at their beck and call chief executives seeking quick approvals for juicy contracts, foreign junkets and extension to their tenures; directors aspiring to head blue-chip companies; and senior executives whose job is to liaise with these privileged people - the bunch that surrounds powerful cabinet ministers and deftly makes political masters inaccessible to the world.
But executives of firms such as NTPC, ONGC, SAIL, BHEL, IOC and Gail say the new government seems different. "It sounds unusual. Not only minister and their personal staff, we had to oblige their close friends and associates right from the swearing-in ceremony. I think this is the Modi effect. It seems everyone is emulating him," said a former chairman of a maharatna oil firm, requesting anonymity.
Things are different at Goyal's office, says a serving chairman of a company. "Despite several requests, we could not easily get time to meet and greet him," said the chairman, who did not wish to be identified. For many public sector bigwigs, this change could make life tougher.
With companies making profits of thousands of crores of rupees, a few air tickets, paid holidays in luxury resorts and white goods were a small price to pay to get the top authorities to look aside when there was some bungling in business. But this time, the ministers demand performance, not indulgence, senior government officials and executives said.
"Top ONGC executives faced a difficult situation while demanding some exemption from paying fuel subsidy at a meeting with the oil minister. The minister questioned their performance as they bid and bagged about 50 per cent of blocks the government auctioned under new exploration licensing policy, but not even one was producing," a person present at the meeting said. ONGC chairman DK Sarraf declined to comment on the matter.
Pradhan had earlier told ET that his entire focus would be on enhancing oil and gas output and that he had directed state-run oil companies to improve management efficiency on priority. Goyal has been even more blunt in his approach as he did not give appointments to many top executives of power and coal PSUs to offer bouquets.
Earlier, there have been cases of people getting out of turn postings, plum appointments or petrol pumps allotted in the name of a family member, just by indulging the oil minister. Taking care of ministers' families and personal staff was a major part of the job of executives of state-run firms, a senior executive of a public sector power company said.
"In the past, we not only bought air tickets for personal staff of minister and their families but also gave daily allowances to their wives and children whenever they went abroad," a retired chairman of a state-run firm said, adding that the firms used to reclaim such sums from contractors that were ever ready to oblige in hope of getting bigticket contracts. more