Book Review: The Difficulty of Being Gajendra Haldea by Sebastian Morris

Title: The Difficulty of Being Gajendra Haldea
Author: Sebastian Morris
Pages: 344
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
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Governments have typically created public infrastructure. An unconventional civil worker named Gajendra Haldea prepared the ground for a significant upheaval. Without Haldea, Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the infrastructure industry in India would not have existed.

A collection of essays titled The Difficulty of Being Gajendra Haldea was written by well-known figures in business, politics, education, journalism, and the civil service. Rich honours to “Gajsaab” have been offered by contributors, many of whom drew on their own relationships with him.

The book tells the story of a powerful bureaucrat who became known as India’s “infrastructure czar” and made a significant impact. The Model Concession Agreements (MCA), which became the cornerstone for leveraging private investments in infrastructure, are his most enduring body of policy and regulation work.

Haldea relied on open communication with business in order to guarantee equitable risk distribution between public and private entities. His approach was straightforward and elegant: specify outcomes and choose a singular evaluation criterion.

Private investors were confident in Haldea because the documents contained detailed game rules that eliminated any space for doubt. MCA was implemented in all industries, including metro projects, ports, electricity transmission networks, and national highways.

Haldea accomplished this by negotiating “multiple layers of interests and conflict of interests.” Later, the same concepts were used to attract foreign investment in the previously fully regulated industry of manufacturing railway locomotives.

When necessary, Haldea unflinchingly sounded the alarm. Fast-track power purchase agreements with international power companies were heavily biassed in their advantage during the first round of negotiations. For payment defaults by cash-strapped energy boards, state governments stood guarantee, and the federal government was to offer a counterguarantee.

Haldea joined the scene at this point and was dubbed the “architect of the counter-guarantee framework.”

Enron, supported by a slew of international attorneys, pulled out all the stops when the Dabhol power project found itself in the centre of the storm. According to Ashok Lavasa, even Soli Sorabjee praised Haldea’s legalese because it limited the amount the Government of India would have to spend, saving the day.

NK Singh praises his work on the 2003 Electricity Act, which replaced a more than a century old law. The Act made it possible for consumers to have open access and to unbundle the energy industry. It’s a “mindset change in the liberalisation process,” he says.

The greatest evaluation of a boss comes from his subordinates. Lavasa lavishes accolades upon others

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“It was difficult to break the intellectual spell that Haldea cast on people who came in contact with him.” He was a “reformer, the crusader for public causes.” Like a “smart wrestler”, he could “disentangle himself from a hold that produced no points” but return “with another effective gambit.”

Bosses, on the other hand, are more selective in their praise-giving. However, Haldea’s superior, NK Singh, has lavished praise on him, calling him “an officer a class apart” with “a sense of sophistication in the etiquette of diplomatic culture.”

His friend and classmate Najeeb Jung characterize him as an “aficionado of culture, beauty, food, and music.” Additionally, he was “a man of integrity and morals, unafraid and always ready to face the world.”

A renowned attorney, Hemant Sahai, praises his “ability to think laterally and design solutions.” He nevertheless “had some quirks and idiosyncrasies” and “certain rigidities,” which were almost “stubbornness”-like.

He “revealed” in his reputation as a “spoiler,” someone who put obstacles in the way of initiatives. Even so, his critics “grudgingly acknowledged the enormous intellectual sophistication” of his models.

With “the wisdom of an owl, the vision of an eagle, the tenacity of a vulture, the speed and strength of a Hayabusa, the endurance of a flamingo, the beauty of a hummingbird, and, almost paradoxically, the calmness of a dove,” Sahai labels him “a rare bird.”

The volume is more than just a collection of compliments and memories. It also contains a wealth of knowledge about a crucial stage of India’s infrastructure growth.

It offers a glimpse into the complexities and subtleties of policy-making for those who are unfamiliar, particularly in uncharted waters. The fundamental ideas in the book can also be used as a toolkit by government employees who are directly involved in infrastructure policy.

Newcomers to the administrative fraternity would find Haldea’s civil service commandments to be remarkable examples from the life of a renowned forebear. Few, however, would have the guts or strength to stand in his shoes and articulate themselves fearlessly, no matter the risks.

The editor may have selected the title “The Difficulty of Being Gajendra Haldea” for this reason.

From above, Haldea would be grinning, a tad entertained and perplexed. He would be confused by the lavish acclaim and gleefully laugh at the criticism. His vast collection of work is still used as inspiration and guidance for the construction of roads and airports in this nation.

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