Which corporate goliath wouldn’t covet a management graduate from the best B school in the country, with incredible multi-tasking skills, a penchant for finance, a passion for problem solving and enviable intellectual prowess? But when your roots are so deeply embedded in public service, making a difference to society takes precedence over a fat pay packet. So this school topper from Bihar, post a BSc Honours degree in Physics and MBA at IIM- Ahmedabad, jettisoned a cushy corporate life for the Civil Services. “Hailing from a family of government officers, the expectation was that I should follow suit.” And he did, by marching into the IAS in 1985 in his maiden attempt. The common thread that runs through Dr. Rajeev Ranjan‘s 32 year stint is his tryst with Finance. The Additional Chief Secretary – Highways & Minor Ports, Tamil Nadu, has served in the Finance department as Deputy Secretary, Joint Secretary and Additional Secretary, not to forget his roles in Commerce, Industry & Revenue. To satiate his in-service academic hunger for domain specialisation, Ranjan did a Masters at the London School of Economics and later earned a doctorate in the hottest niche area today – Intellectual Property Rights.
Did I mention multi-tasking? The day I interviewed him on the telephone for this column, Dr. Ranjan was giving finishing touches to an important presentation through video conferencing. The audience was to be headed by the Prime Minister. Not once did he seem in a hurry to wrap up the tete-a-tete, having obviously mastered the art of masking preoccupation! It was hardly surprising that as Collector of Trichy in the mid nineties, which was the largest district in Tamil Nadu (now 4 separate districts) Ranjan managed to turn it around into “one of the best districts in development parameters”. Life does come full circle and one of his many additional responsibilities is as the designated Monitoring Officer of the district for development work. “I’m like a mentor to the system.”
The turnaround officer was able to revive Tamil Nadu Steels, an ailing company. “In the early nineties, steel was a controlled item and our Arakkonam unit was the only factory to produce the metal in the region.” After a stint as Joint Secretary in the Home and Finance departments, Ranjan went on a year long sabbatical to the London School of Economics. On his return, an assignment as Member Secretary of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) beckoned. What followed was a marathon 7 year deputation with the government of India.
Between 2000 and 2005, Ranjan was instrumental in “changing India’s intellectual property landscape.” At the helm as Director in the Ministry of Industry & Commerce, he was involved in bringing about the new legislation on patents with amendments to the patents law in 2002 and 2005. There were obligations under the trade related aspects on intellectual property rights (TRIPS). “I was in the thick of what marked a watershed in IPR.” What used to take 5 to 6 years for examination of patents was drastically whittled down to a month. Ranjan recalls with justifiable pride, the setting up of the Traditional Knowledge Data Library (TKDL) and his address at a gathering of Supreme Court judges at the National Judicial Academy, Bhopal.
After his promotion to the Joint Secretary grade, Ranjan was at the forefront of the setting up of the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC) involving captains of industry. The National manufacturing Initiative led to a Global Innovations Summit and the Visionary Leadership of Manufacturing Programme (VLMP) a joint initiative with IIT Kanpur, Madras and IIM, with a Japanese tie-up. Through the National Manufacturing Policy, Ranjan played a stellar role in shining a bright light on “competitiveness”, arguably, for the first time.
Back to the Tamil Nadu cadre, Ranjan’s number crunching continued. As the Secretary of Commercial Taxes and Registration, 2008-09 saw GST in its nascent stage. Soon enough, he landed another plum posting in sync with his experience. Under his watch as Secretary – Industries, Tamil Nadu, he claims, registered a growth rate of “more than 20%” and investments, especially from Japan and Korea came in.
The Tamilnadu Electricity Board (TNEB) was going through a challenging phase in 2011-12 when Ranjan was posted as the Chairman. There was a 4000 MW shortage and it was time for a tariff revision. This is where his adroitness and experience in finance came in handy and he devised a Financial Restructuring Plan (FRP), a revised version of which later came in the form of the Central government’s UDAY scheme, which he had first officially signed on behalf of the State. To exacerbate matters, cyclone Thane had caused widespread devastation. The Board’s massive restoration work in record time earned a mention from the Chief Minister in the assembly. The next predictable stop over in his administrative avatar was as Secretary – Revenue.
For the last 4 years, Ranjan has been spearheading the Highways & Minor Ports department, with additional charge of the Energy and Industries departments in between for a few months. The Outer Ring Road 1& 2 and the East Coast Road have been completed with necessary improvements. The Sagar Mala project also came under his sway, as did additional charge of the last Finance Commission. “These may be seen as footnotes but were like full time assignments.”
Unassuming to the core, Ranjan’s family background may make one wonder if public service is in his genes. With simplicity imbibed from his home maker mother Krishna Roy, he was influenced by his father P.N.Roy, a public sector employee. Reluctant to flaunt his family connections, it took some coaxing for him to reveal that one of his brothers – Sanjeev Ranjan is the Chief Secretary of Tripura, his brother in law is the DGP of Bihar and his father in law B.P.Singh was the Union Home Secretary, Executive Director of the World Bank and the Governor of Sikkim. Married to a home maker Preeti, the Ranjans have two talented sons. Aditya who graduated in Engineering from PSG, earned a full scholarship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has recently got admission at Stanford Business School. The younger son Akhil is finishing a degree in Computer Science at VIT and has deferred admission at Carnegie Mellon University.
Walking, swimming and running marathons keep Ranjan fit and glowing like a new bridegroom, making it hard to believe that he is entering the wrong side of fifty! “I’ve done my quota of marathons”, he chuckles. But his runaway success in administration goes on.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)