New TRAI Chief Rahul Khullar – Tough, Honest, Numbers-driven

Rahul Khullar, the new chief at the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has a reputation for being a no nonsense boss.

Khullar, a 1975 batch IAS officer of Delhi cadre, also has a few other qualities that will make his tenure at the TRAI second to none of those of his predecessors — he is extremely data driven and has a reputation for being an honest bureaucrat. Witty and sharp, Khullar does not try overly hard to be politically correct.

Khullar is at present the top bureaucrat at India’s ministry of trade and commerce.

His stint at the trade ministry has been characterized by steady progress. He oversaw the sensitive recovery of India’s overseas and domestic trade from the global recession.

He, along with trade minister Anand Sharma, was a key force behind the formation of several very forward-looking policies that have the potential to completely change India’s industrial future.

During his time, the ministry put forward a comprehensive plan to improve India’s deteriorating trade balance. The ministry also put forward what can only be called the most ambitious plan for overhauling India’s industrial rules since the Narasimha Rao government cut away many of India’s socialistic red tape in the early 1990s.

The ministry under Khullar also strongly batted for allowing private foreign companies to open super markets in India, while resisting pressure from the Agriculture ministry headed Sharad Pawar on issues such as cotton export ban, sugar imports etc..

It is, of course, a different matter that most of the policies suggested by the commerce ministry, such as the manufacturing policy and FDI in retail, have not been implemented at all or have seen considerable modification before they got government approval.

Nevertheless, Khullar’s tenure will be noted for successfully raising India’s exports growth, though it was also marred by a foreign trade numbers goof up.

Khullar, who has a reputation for not suffering fools gladly and for not holding back on his opinion — even if politically incorrect — is likely to have an interesting stint as the TRAI chairman. India’s telecom regulator is currently in the midst of a huge overhaul of the spectrum-pricing rules, upsetting the telecom industry which has grown used to easier rates for telecom spectrum.

Several key reforms, such as the conversion of the entire country into one ‘circle’ — abolishing STD and roaming and enabling users to retain their numbers wherever they are, and the abolition of the termination charge — likely to reduce call rates to 15 paise per minute, await Rahul Khullar at TRAI.