Son of the (S)Oil

Subir Raha, CMD, ONGC, recalls his days in the TA

Power is written all-over the eclectically-designed ONGC corporate office in Delhi. The way the heels click on the wooden floor as you walk, the way the usherer leaves you in a visitor’s room designed with ethnic Assam artifacts, the way a waiter brings you water and asks in clipped English if you want something to drink while you wait for the chairman and the managing director to arrive are enough to strongly convey the position ONGC enjoys today. Though it is still a public-sector undertaking (PSU), it functions like anything but that.

As the wait for Subir Raha seems to go on for ever, you wonder what to expect of the CMD, who retired as a major, a couple of years ago from the Territorial Army. Would he be the difficult, no-nonsense person steeped in power-speak or would he be the impatient chairman measuring words and minutes spent during the interview? As it turns out, he is neither, and yet a little of both. Though nobody announces his arrival, you know he is coming by the flurry of activity preceding him. The usherer swings the door open in one deft movement and Raha walks in briskly only to find a waiting photographer, poised to shoot. A quick apology follows and he excuses himself once again to freshen up before his photographs could be taken. His staff member explains that he has been in a long meeting which caused the delay. A quick recap as we wait for Raha to reappear.

After completing a degree in electronics and telecom engineering from Jadavpur University, Calcutta in 1969, Raha joined the Indian Oil Corporation in 1970. He stayed with the organisation for over two decades and took over as CMD ONGC in May 2001. In his long tenure with IOC, he went on deputation to the ministry of petroleum and natural gas as the head of the Oil Coordination Committee. In 1983, when the departmental TA was raised for the oil sector, he volunteered to join the force and after serving two terms of nine-years each, retired in 2002.

Following the same flurry, the CMD reappears, this time looking reasonably relaxed. He patiently poses for the photographer before settling down to talk about his days in the TA. “The simplest and the most honest reason for my joining the TA was my love for the uniform. Right from my childhood, I was fascinated by the colour of the uniform, the ribbons and the medals,” he begins. This love saw him joining the Boys Scout in school and National Cadet Corps (NCC) in college. While at Presidency College, Calcutta, he was with the infantry NCC, at Jadavpur University he switched to naval NCC. Subsequently, he joined 4 Bengal Technical Squadron and retired from NCC as senior under officer. “I was the senior-most cadet to lead the Republic Day Parade,” he recalls with a misty smile. In 1966, he went for the Advanced Leadership course at NCC. But by then the compulsions of education started catching up with him and he had to push his uniform to the recesses of his closet.

“At University, I had a lot of options. I could have joined the Services, given my track record, but I ended up doing engineering,” he says without going in the details of why he gave up what clearly was his first love. However, his experience with the uniform came in handy during the rise of insurgency in Assam when the insurgents started targeting the oil pipelines and refineries. The trouble which began in early Seventies started peaking in the late-Seventies. Raha, who was employed with Indian Oil, was posted in Haldia those days and was in charge of logistics. Due to the unrest in Assam, the pipelines were shut down and oil could not reach the refineries. As a result, the demand from Haldia sector increased and Raha and his team had to ensure supply of four to five times more crude without any corresponding increase in infrastructure or manpower. This also included the imported crude. “It was back-breaking, but we managed to do it successfully,” he reminisces. Finally, the army was deployed to reactivate the crude oil pipelines in Assam. Maj. Gen. S.C.N. Jatar led the operation and the engineers managed to successfully start the pipelines.

Scalded by the experience, the government decided to raise three units of Territorial Army for the oil sector and Raha promptly joined. “I thought it was a great opportunity to rekindle my old love,” he says. Raha joined the service corps which is responsible for logistics and steady supply of fuel in times of crisis, such as natural calamities like cyclones and earthquakes.

Despite his busy lifestyle and pressure of work, Raha never missed attending the Annual Training Camp. “Going to the ATC used to be such a wonderful change. Suddenly, from the office you find yourself at the camp, you undergo a drastic hair-cut, pull on your shorts and stand in the sun for what seems like eternity. After three days you ache all over and after seven days you are absolutely fit. My favourite saying is that in the civil you pay through your teeth to lose weight but in the Services, the government pays you to lose weight,” he chuckles. “During embodiment, when I used to draw my major’s salary, I calculated that I was being paid Rs 1,000 to lose one kilo.”

Raha is full of funny and at times awkward moments that were caused because of his love for the uniform. When he took over as the CMD, ONGC, he still had a few months to go before his retirement from the TA. During the Republic Day celebrations in Dehradun, the ONGC headquarters, he decided to attend the parade in his uniform. As he stepped out of his car he was received by an IPS officer in the rank of an Inspector General. Here was CMD, ONGC, wearing a major’s uniform being received by an IG of police. “There was a little bit awkwardness as he wasn’t expecting me to appear in my uniform,” says Raha with a mischievous smile.

Raha does not agree that all civilians should compulsorily serve a stint with the TA (“to begin with, it is not possible given the size of our population”), but he does feel that those who do so get richer by experience. “It transforms you completely — physically, mentally and emotionally. And at the end of the day, you are left with pleasant memories of shared fun,” he says. Though TA has been a kind of an equaliser, Raha never had to report to a person in TA who was his junior in the corporate sector because, “Other things being equal, civil ranks are recognised in TA.” Besides, by donning the uniform, a civilian understands the discipline of the force. According to Raha, he has noticed complete transformation in people once they were embodied. “There was no shame of work. A person could be working as a senior clerk in an organisation but at the ATC he is a mere jawan. He wouldn’t think twice about going down on his knees and digging pits,” he says.

Though Raha finally hung his major’s uniform in 2002, he has preserved it along with his belt and boots. “I have many pleasant memories of the TA,” he says. Topping his list of the favourite moments is the grenade throwing practice. “It used to be really exhilarating. You knew that if you didn’t throw the grenade within six seconds of pulling the pin you’d blow off.” Raha also got a two-and-a-half inch group in target practising despite not being a good sharpshooter. “In the post-commission training, I was adjudged the best cadet,” he says with a glint of amused pride.

Clearly, for the CMD of one of the most successful PSU in India, power lunches in the executive lounges of five-star hotels are as desirable as a day in the sun at the ATC.



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