Sunday, Jul 03, 2022

The Man Who Thinks On His Feet: Meet PM Modi's New Advisor From Himachal

Himachal Pradesh cadre's top IAS officer Tarun Kapoor brings his vast experience from petroleum to renewable and green energy to his new role in PMO.

PM Modi's new advisor Tarun Kapoor from Himachal Pradesh  (right)
PM Modi's new advisor Tarun Kapoor from Himachal Pradesh (right) PTI/File Photo

His seniors in Himachal Pradesh government describe him as a cool, calm, and collected old-school professional. His qualities like taking quick decisions are particularly admirable as he has never been proved wrong over it. Subordinates at the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) remember him as a sober, yet completely focussed, fiercely impartial and logical bureaucrat.

Meet Tarun Kapoor, the 1987-batch Himachal cadre IAS officer, whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi handpicked as his advisor this week. Kapoor had retired as petroleum secretary on November 30, 2021, but with a work experience spreading over 17 years in various aspects of the energy sector—hydropower, national solar mission, energy transition ranging from non-conventional energy to biofuel, geothermal and tidal—makes him the man of the moment for Modi, in terms of Prime Minister’s priority areas in the country. 

Kapoor's appointment in the PMO just before Himachal Pradesh goes to the polls has a greater meaning, as till now the Prime Minister had mostly chosen candidates from his home state, Gujarat. Rising to the top rank is, however, not just pure luck. Kapoor's hard work and some out-of-the-box thinking have also played a great role. Former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal says Kapoor is gifted with outstanding administrative skills. "He has perfect stability in planning, drafting and executing new policies directly beneficial to the masses. He is a good choice for PMO and will prove to be an asset to Modiji.” Dhumal recalls an incident when Kapoor was Deputy Commissioner of Chamba—a district hit by militancy, mainly a spill-over of the Kashmir terror situation: “After I became Chief Minister for the first time in 1998, there was a massive terrorist attack. Kashmiri militants sneaked into our areas and massacred 35 people. On hearing that I had decided to visit the site, Kapoor quickly came and stood in front of my vehicle to stop me from taking a grave risk to go there, fearing that the militants could still be hiding in the area." Kapoor finally let Dhumal go, but not before taking due security precautions.

Kapoor never went to any high-profile private boarding or a convent school but studied at ordinary government schools in small towns like Palampur in Kangra, Yol, Mandi, Sundernagar, Bilaspur and Shimla. His father RK Kapoor was one of the first engineers from Himachal, who joined the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB) and retired from the post of Member in 1989. Kapoor had to change schools every few years as and when his father got transferred, which was mostly to remote rural areas. Finally, he passed out from Kendriya Vidyalaya Shimla, and went on to pursue engineering at Thapar Institute of Engineering & Technology, Patiala on a seat from the government quota. Then he did an MBA from a New Delhi college, and worked in the private sector till he cleared the UPSC exams in 1987.

Apart from serving as Block Development officer (BDO) at Chopal, Shimla’s lesser developed sub-division, Kapoor also completed a posting as Resident Commissioner, Pangi, state’s remotest snow-bound high-altitude valley with dodgy road connectivity. His term as Director (Personnel) in Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) Ltd—a joint venture of Centre and state government, gave him exposure to working in the energy sector, which he later carried out as the managing director.

His posting in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy between 2011 and 2016, and later vice-chairman at Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 2018-21, added to his knowledge of working on 'green energy', National Solar Mission (a policy he drafted) and infrastructure sector.

During the pandemic, when Kapoor was secretary, MoPNG, he was instrumental in the implementation of Prime Minister Modi’s flagship scheme for free LPG cylinders for the poor. Besides working in the power sector in Himachal Pradesh, he also worked in the forest and environment sector, food and civil supplies, excise and taxation, rural development and even Panchayati Raj. As an additional chief secretary (forest and environment), he looked into climate change issues, monkey menace in Shimla, and state's farm intensive areas.  

BJP leaders in the state believe that Modi's choice for advisor may give Kapoor real advantage to roll out new plans on Himachal Pradesh before the state goes to the polls, especially making it as first 'green energy' state of the country.