Thursday, September 27, 2012

Guest lecture by Mr. Pradip Baijal

Interaction with Mr. Pradip Baijal

          It is not often that an institution is graced with the presence of an eminent person from the industry like Mr. Pradip Baijal. The Department of Management Studies recently had one such opportunity. We were lucky to have had the opportunity to interview him and gain valuable insights into the various sectors he was a part of. It was indeed a one of a kind experience as he tapped into almost every sector of the country, sharing his views on their current situation and how they can be redeemed from the same.  A retired officer from the Indian Administrative Services Mr. Baijal has served as the chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for three years. He has also been an important part of the Power and Steel sectors where he has had a hand in writing the regulations for the same. He has also served as a visiting fellow at Oxford University for a year on privatizations and reforms.  Prior to being appointed as the Chairman of TRAI he worked as a Secretary in the Disinvestment ministry for the Government of India for almost three years.

          After retirement, he started a strategic consulting company. His clients included the two biggest  corporates in India, the Tata’s and RIL, besides many MNCs, Indian companies, multilateral institutions like the World Bank, International Telecommunication Union (for restructuring telecom sector in many developing countries). He was on the Boards of Nestle, GVK and Patni Computers and advisory boards of IOC and IDFC. He also served as the Chairman of an Advisory committee to the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board in India. He has been giving lectures on Indian regulation, restructuring, business environment etc. to management schools, International Financial Institutions in USA, UK, Singapore, HongKong and India. He was also a member of the Indo-American think-tank Aspen. Currently, he has left all assignments, and is concentrating on writing a book on the fascinating ‘India Unwired’, with a Professor in USA..

          It was indeed a pleasure interacting with him as it vastly enhanced our knowledge. He shared some of his experiences in the various sectors he was a part of and gave us some valuable advice as to how a career path is to be planned. He also shared his views on the future of the Telecom industry. He stressed on how important it is for business schools to work in collaboration with universities in the west or in Europe. Mutual benefits could be obtained from this venture according to him. Such an interaction is always beneficial for the Indian counterpart. He cited the example of IIM Ahmedabad and now the institution has benefited from its interactions with various universities from the United States. As a country he also stated that instead of continuously trying to emulate practices in the west or in Europe we could start looking towards a country like China and learn heaps from them. China is a country with a similar make up as that of India. It is multi-cultural and populous just like India is. The problems faced in both countries are similar. He stressed on the importance of generating power by constructing more dams. According to Mr. Baijal India has a cornucopia of untapped locations where dams could be erected. The north & north eastern part of our country is full of such locations that could be capable of generating high volumes of useful power.

A couple of specific questions from the newsletter team followed this session:

Q. Among all the positions you have held during your illustrious career which has been the most challenging of them all?

Among all the positions Mr. Baijal has held, his tenure as District Magistrate of the undivided Bastar in Madhya Pradesh (area larger than the state of Kerala) was the most challenging. This was at a very young age of around 30, where he encountered the emergence of Naxalism. According to Mr. Baijal, Naxalism is caused more by the Government than the Naxals themselves. He always believed that such problems should be solved in an amicable manner. Meetings with the Naxals would sometimes go on till around 11 pm with no solution in sight. He adopted the policy of understanding things from their perspective and then trying to come up with a solution which would benefit both the administration and the Naxals, rather than go for Police solutions.

Q. With corruption on the rise in almost every sphere of the Government, How do you foresee the future? Will India have its own jasmine revolution?

A. According to Mr. Baijal, the situation in India is very grim. He expects a radical change but says that it is difficult to pin point the course India would take, at the moment. He further stated that the Government is run not only by politicians but also by bureaucrats who are some of the brightest minds in the country. Still the country suffers from problems like inadequate power supply. It is only when these basic concerns are addressed that India will have a brighter future. According to him, even the brightest minds are mostly in need of direction, which sometimes the politicians do provide.

Q. How do you view the disinvestment of public sector companies in the post liberalized economy?

A. According to Mr. Baijal, the disinvestment of public sector firms, and reforms, are a boon for the economy as privatization is the best way forward to improve productivity of industry and economy. The most apt example that he cited was that of the telecom sector. The explosive growth of telecom density after the entry of the private players shows that a higher amount of efficiency and effectiveness can be achieved with private players competing in a free market economy.The role of Government should be limited to regulating the sector, in a transparent manner and encouraging competition.

Q. What according to you Sir lies in the future of the power sector in our country?

A. According to Mr. Baijal, India is severely short on its energy needs.The way forward is utilizing hydro energy and nuclear power. We have a cornucopia of Thorium deposits in Kerala and Uranium deposits in North East India. This ought to be utilized.We are moving towards the third stage of nuclear technology in which thorium would be an essential element. The environmental problems caused by the generation of hydroelectric power should be compared with the disadvantages of generating power from other sources. Even though we have abundant sources of Hydel power, we do not develop them due to misguided environment bottlenecks. Lack of adequate and reliable power supply leads to poor productivity which in turn affects the economy which leads to increased unemployment and poverty. If this problem is to be eradicated we must first start hydel sources of energy.

Q. India is a country where sunlight is freely and abundantly available. Why is solar energy not as widely used as a source of power?

A. According to Mr. Baijal, solar energy though abundantly available is a very expensive. May be it would develop as a viable source in some years.

Q. What kind of advice would you give students and teachers from B-schools all over India with regards to what is expected from the corporates?

A. According to Mr. Baijal, Even though most institutions today are well endowed with the requisites for carrying out day to day businesses, it is the extra steps that the institute takes which separates a good B-school from an average one. This requires collaboration from both the instructors and the students. The best way for a B-school to get itself recognized is to establish links with prominent institutes in the developed world. This kind of interaction promotes the right kind of learning among students which enables them to be more pragmatic in their approach. These are the kind of students that the industry looks for.

Q. Could you tell us a bit more about the book you are currently working on?

A. It is called “India unwired” but that’s all I will say about it. To find out more you will just have to read it. This is about the new model of telephony and broadband, developing in India.

Q. What do you see in India’s future?

A. After Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, the age of Web 3.0 is fast approaching. The introduction of
Web 3.0 will create a tectonic shift of sorts. Research methodologies would be transformed completely. This would be a lot more interactive and online businesses would pick up to a great extent. This technology would make its appearance somewhere around 2015. “Be ready to be amazed”, he added. The telecom sector would also move towards 4G and eventually towards 5G which would entail a bandwidth much higher. Speeds would be phenomenal. The little vexing circle that appears in the middle of your screen would be no more. However, a lot of structural changes are required in the telecom network, mostly moving towards unified and converged licensing ensuring much better utilization of scarce resources in these networks, particularly spectrum, and giving the freedom to operators to innovate at a much higher plane, rather than the Government micro-managing inefficiently. As far as the power sector is concerned Pre-paid contracted power delivered on open access, already provided in the Electricity Act/rules/regulations/government policies, yet very inefficiently implemented, will be the next big thing. This would ensure that power is delivered efficiently, and used judicially. IT would also minimize the power cuts that most people in our country face. This has already been adopted in Germany and will soon make its presence felt in our country.

These were some of the brilliant insights that Mr. Baijal shared with the ever so grateful students from the Department of Management Studies at IIT, Roorkee. After this interaction the only thought in my mind was that I wish we had more time.

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