Why Indians Need To Understand the Importance of Gajendra Haldea’s Contribution to the Nation
It is only in India that a whistle-blower and a crusader, whose honesty, integrity and brilliance has saved the country billions of dollars, would be demonised when alive and recognised as the ‘father of infrastructure’ when he is no more. 
 
The people of India, who are the biggest beneficiaries of his work, remain clueless about his contribution, because, as an IAS officer, he worked within the system and fought his battles for the nation largely from the inside. In the process, he had to give up the opportunity for plum postings and post-retirement sinecures that are the primary focus of most senior bureaucrats.
 
It is important to put Gajendra Haldea’s (1949-2021) contribution to the nation in perspective and his brother Prithvi Haldea has done an excellent job of collating all his work and more at http://www.gajendrahaldea.in/
 
His enormous body of work included drafting several key national and state legislations of which the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA), The Electricity Act, 2003, and three draft legislations covering regulatory reforms, public procurement and the Public Contracts (Settlement of Disputes) Bill, 2014, as well as the innumerable model agreements for various infrastructure projects are the most important. 
 
His intervention on the gold-plated deal negotiated by Enron Inc for Dabhol Power Company alone ought to have won him national honours.
 
A letter from the late Soli Sorabjee, then the attorney-general of India, to finance minister (FM) Jaswant Singh in February 2004, says it all.
 
He wrote of how one clause in the counter-guarantee agreement (which is the norm internationally, but is never part of Indian agreements) had saved the day for India after the Maharashtra government famously dumped Enron’s Dabhol power project in the Arabian Sea.
 
This clause made the guarantee conditional and payable only if ‘validly due’ which helped fight Enron’s claim. It also capped the termination guarantee at $300 million preventing what could have been a $1,400-million claim.
 
An intrigued Mr Sorabjee made the effort to find out who had ensured this safeguard.
 
Having discovered that it was at the dogged insistence of one official in the finance ministry, he wrote to the FM saying, “It has become customary in our country to criticise and run down the bureaucracy. Unfortunately, praise is not accorded where it is pre-eminently due.” 
 
Noting the pressure that would have emanated from Enron, at a time when the entire country had been hostage to its arrogant political manoeuvring, Mr Sorabjee wrote, “It would have taken exceptional brilliance, skill, integrity, and courage of conviction to be able to modify the draft of the counter-guarantee agreement proposed by Enron” and recommended that Mr Haldea be given “the recognition that was legitimately due to him.” It is important to recall that such was Enron’s clout that the US Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, had openly threatened the government on its behalf and the company had systematically silenced the Indian media.
 
Mr Sorabjee’s letter was written a decade after Enron’s power-play of the early-1990s and only after it had flamed out globally.
 
By then, Mr Haldea had played a major role in preventing a slew of ‘fast-track’ independent power projects (IPPs) from following in Enron’s footsteps by demanding similar terms and guarantees.
 
Eventually, these IPPs did inflict a big burden on power distribution companies, but the damage was far less than what it could have been.
 
But recognition or reward? It was mainly in the form of media articles asking him to take comfort from his legion detractors which indicated that he was doing something right.
 
Former cabinet secretary, the late TSR Subramanian, went so far as to write this in his autobiography: “India would have been better off paying Haldea a billion dollars so that the infrastructure sector could move on without his interference… towards the end of my tenure, I found that he was in fact worth five billion dollars!”
 
This shockingly wrong denouement from an otherwise well-regarded bureaucrat came before the collapse of Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS).
 
TSR passed away in February 2018, just months before IL&FS began to default and exposed the cosy nexus between India’s bureaucracy and a company that Mr Haldea was to describe as a “many layered circus, riddled with conflict of interest.”
 
The unhealthy growth and demise of IL&FS was entirely due to venal bureaucrats who colluded with the group in multiple and inter-changeable roles on deputation at IL&FS, as administrators and later regulators and supervisors.
 
This group, which was sarcastically called IL&FS-cadre by upright bureaucrats, has not been held accountable as yet. Their wink-and-nod attitude allowed crony capitalism to flourish, funded by public sector banks’ (PSBs’) chairmen as willing accomplices.
 
It takes a special kind of steely character to ignore criticism from the senior bureaucrats and ministers who decide your promotions and postings. Gajendra Haldea had it in spades.
 
However, his unrelenting criticism of the system was always accompanied by solutions and very detailed and path-breaking work in drafting legislation, policy framework and standardised model documents to do things right.
 
His model concession agreements for PPP projects covered power, highways, ports, airports, railways, land use for projects, the Hyderabad Metro Rail, etc. He, correctly, demanded copyright for some of this work.
 
When things went awry, he wrote two detailed papers exposing the rot. A 2010 study, aptly titled “India’s Sub-Prime Highways” exposed how banks were lending at nearly double the cost estimated by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), giving private partners a free ride.
 
The PSBs, he said, provided huge loans to private sector infrastructure projects “in a manner that can only be described as cavalier because prudence, as well as due diligence, were conspicuous by their absence.”
 
Financing inflated projects, reckless disbursement of funds, irresponsible waiver of conditionalities, bypassing of contract terms, lack of any worthwhile stake of the project sponsors and diversion of funds became the principal attributes of PSB lending to infrastructure projects. India paid the price for this ‘imprudent lending’.
 
Had bureaucrats like TSR Subramaniam and his successors paid attention and supported Mr Haldea, bad debts of PSBs, which inflicted a cost of Rs15 lakh crore on the exchequer, could have been substantially reduced. A big chunk of these bad loans on bank books are on account of infrastructure projects and IL&FS.
 
Gajendra Haldea was not merely a one-person watchdog of national interest, he was unique in being completely supportive of private involvement to achieve transformational infrastructure development.
 
He worked hard to enable this with appropriate policy and suggested ways to clean up the mess (including a change in the architecture of independent regulators) if the process was perverted.
 
When that also failed, he even dared to file public interest litigation (PIL) to challenge projects that would damage the public interest. His challenge to the privatisation of Delhi’s power distribution was one example.
 
India has, indeed, lost a conscience-keeper in Mr Haldea’s demise. But it is not too late to recognise his enormous contribution to building national infrastructure and preventing the loot of national resources with a State honour befitting the man who is posthumously recognised as the ‘Father of India’s private infrastructure development’.
 

Comments
Rengaraj
3 weeks ago
salute to mr.haldea
ashoksinghania10
4 weeks ago
great work my tribute to this great man
nreddy.donthi16
4 weeks ago
I agree, even though I was never a fan of bureaucrats. Gajendra Haldea has done immense work for protection of public interest. His work with Hyderabad Metro Rail and an exposure later was quite helpful for us. He deserves accolades and needs mention in the annals of good governance in India.
silloomarker
4 weeks ago
Thank you for enlightening me and perhaps many others about the important role that a bureaucrat, Mr. Haldea, played in fighting corruption and cronyism from the inside. More needs to be done to give him his due, even if only posthumously. We do need public figures who inspire and not disgust with their wily ways.
kkavasia
4 weeks ago
I wish I had known more about Shri Haldea while he was around. Would like to know more about him. Surprisingly, Shri Haldea has not received as much coverage as he richly deserves.
From what I have read in this piece, he is in league of Damodaran, Seshan, Khairnar, RK Talwar and the like.
deshmukharu67
4 weeks ago
wish we have at least a handful of bureaucrats who are like him it will save the country from a lot of problems.
varunmanubomb
1 month ago
He was indeed a class apart. Really a precious contribution towards country.
Glad to read about him.
neela
1 month ago
It is indeed, so heartening to read about Mr.Haldea, when all you see around is apathy and corruption! Hats off to such good people!
Enjoyed the article!
bharat.salhotra
1 month ago
I had the privilege of putting together a case study on India’s first PPP initiative in the Port sector under Mr Haldea’s guidance - the NSICT Concession. Also sharing a Board seat with him on the DFCCIL Board. And finally, being humbled by having him agree to be a part of the Madhepura inauguration at site! Mr. Haldea was a tough task master to his juniors but an exceptionally outstanding Guru. Each interaction with him was an opportunity to grow and learn. He could envision outcomes of contracts and agreements - be it the Enron case or the UMPP Contracts or the Guidelines for PPP in the Port Sector- well before the events unfolded. It is also thanks to Mr Haldea that the twin loco projects at Madhepura and Marohara Loco Projects are today a reality.
His contribution to India’s infrastructure story in unparalleled and unmatched and I hope the Nation recognises what a great impact he had on the sands of time.
Mr Haldea held the beacon light to all those who dared to challenge the status quo. An extremely hardworking professional with honesty in public life at its core, he was driven by a passion to establish enduring legal and contractual frameworks that provided a level playing field to private sector to build India’s Infrastructure! He can truly be bestowed title of the father of India’s Infrastructure !
yaduvendramathur
1 month ago
An excellent write up on late Mr Haldea
subhmat
1 month ago
Gajendra was my friend and he shared many of his ideas with me before they saw the light of the day in public domain . We argued about the merits and opposite for days before he made up his mind .
Being very close it's difficult for me judge his body of work without certain amount of bias.
But overall I would say his ideas and he had many od them influenced the decision makers to sit up and take notice at the highest level .
Of how many civil servants can we say that managed to get there .
Most civil servants do what's required of them and fade away .
But not Gajendra . He worked tirelessly to fine tune his ideas and his persuasive skills ensured that his ideas became critical to the progress of the nation .
For me he went away too early. He had so much more in him .
I also feel perhaps it's far too early to judge him fairly .
Thanks Prithvi for your commendable efforts
virendrajain174
1 month ago
Mr. Gajendra Haldea's sustained contribution to the nation is awesome, as briefly detailed by Sucheta Dalal in her article. I fully endorse her suggestion of State honoring him befitting his enormous contribution to the nation and it's citizens. Their life and contribution should be taught in schools and colleges for students to learn, inspire and emulate. Thanks to Sucheta and Moneylife for bringing out such gems to our (and readers) attention and knowledge.

Virendra Jain
yerramr
1 month ago
This rare bureaucrat winning accolade from you, is a very good recognition. Most PSBs stopped doing due diligence once the chairman or MD sees the three letters IAS and they also did not do any due diligence of any of the directors of several infrastructure companies they funded, IL&FS not excluded!
balchandani.nitin
1 month ago
We need a lot of officers with the kind of fortitude and determination that Mr. Haldea exhibited on a regular basis. His work is incredible, and the travel is epic!!
kaviraj.patil
1 month ago
This is indeed an eye-opener and clearly shows how path breakers are never appreciated. I am happy that you have taken the trouble to highlight the role played by Mr. Haldea. I do hope that Mr. Prithvi Haldea takes up the cause of this noble Indian and write his biography. Such people are rare in India's bureaucracy.
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