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A reluctant coalman

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SummaryThe CMD of Coal India tells Indronil Roychowdhury about the pressures he faces from power producers, unions and investors. And as the lone coal miner in the country, there’s just that much pressure that can be piled on

The CMD of Coal India tells Indronil Roychowdhury about the pressures he faces from power producers, unions and investors. And as the lone coal miner in the country, there’s just that much pressure that can be piled on

It’s a muggy Monday afternoon in Kolkata with the rains taking a break. But the 15-minute drive from the business district in Dalhousie Square, where Coal India Limited (CIL) is headquartered, past the Maidan is wonderful and the Victoria Memorial is always beautiful to look at. And it’s pleasant inside the Taj Bengal located in the upmarket and green Alipore, with the 177-year-old National Library and the 138-year-old Zoological Gardens, both the legacy of the British Raj, in the vicinity.

I am with Narsing Rao, the chairman and managing director of CIL, at the Sonargaon restaurant, now in its 24th year, but with its reputation intact despite at least half a dozen new restaurants catering to Indian cuisine having sprung up in the city over the last two years.

Sonargaon’s traditional décor (mud walls with diyas placed on in-built shelves) hasn’t been disturbed in all these years and the waiters are attired in ethnic wear—white dhotis and embroidered long, black kurtas. The lighting is unobtrusive—not surprising in a city known for its aesthetics. We have the restaurant almost all to ourselves, even though it’s well past 1.30 pm, and find a comfortable sofa in a corner.

The tomato shorba sounds like a good way to start and in between spoonfuls of the hot soup, Rao talks of how he was initially reluctant to get away from Hyderabad and move to Kolkata since he had just six years of service remaining. Eventually, he gave in to the temptation of heading the public sector behemoth and is getting used to the drill—the worst part of which is the continuous travelling, most of it to Delhi—as is his wife. Rao’s son, meanwhile, is wrapping up an engineering course at BITS Pilani.

Interestingly, Rao worked with the Indian Forest Service and the Indian Police Service before joining the Indian Administrative Service. In between, he spent six years on UN assignments in Myanmar, Indonesia, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Rome, time which he says was very well spent.

His stints in his home state of Andhra Pradesh, of course, brought him insights into the Naxalite movement—he also learnt a lot about this while in Nepal. Rao says he managed to get a lot

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