Obituary: Lovraj Kumar

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The Independent Online
Lovraj Kumar, oil executive, civil servant: born Nainital, Uttar Pradesh 26 August 1926; married (one daughter); died New Delhi 3 February 1994.

IN 1957 Lovraj Kumar became one of a distinguished band of outsiders - outside the Indian Administrative Service - including IG Patel and LK Jha, who took on a large role in forming Indian economic policies. Jawaharlal Nehru called on Kumar to implement his conception of an integrated petrochemical complex. This he did as an adviser to the Ministry of Petroleum; and the Indian Petrochemical Corporation is justly regarded as his creation.

In the early 1970s I persuaded Pitamber Pant, a member of the Planning Commission, to create a new division, the Project Appraisal Division. I was delighted that Kumar was appointed as its head. But his most important and rewarding post was as Secretary of the Ministry of Petroleum, where he did much to encourage the successful search for oil in India, and to develop the pipeline networks for the transport of gas and petroleum products. He loved to recount one of his diplomatic experiences. He was trying to obtain an assurance of supplies of oil from Libya. Negotiations were going well until Colonel Gaddafi announced that he wanted nuclear weapons in return. When Kumar demurred, the Colonel tried to win him over by saying that one or two bombs would be enough.

Kumar's last post was as Secretary of the Ministry of Steel, from which he retired in 1984. During his retirement he chaired many committees and institutions, including the Governors of the Doon School, the Wildlife Fund of India, and the National Council for Applied Economic Research.

Kumar was born in 1926 and educated at the Doon School, India's leading public school. After Independence, Indians could become Rhodes Scholars at Oxford, and Lovraj Kumar was the first, in 1947. He read Chemistry and played cricket for Magdalen College. On returning to India in 1950 he joined Burmah-Shell, an experience that shaped his future career.

Kumar's professional success was built on personal qualities which endeared him to all. Unlike many, he was always optimistic about Indian development. He was always enthusiastic about the causes he embraced and over-enthusiastic about the merits of his ancient Daimler car to which he attributed improbable speeds. If he ever felt cynical about the motives of bureaucrats or politicians he did not show it. He was good at choosing advisers and staff, and few failed to succumb to his quiet personal charm and good humour.

He and and his wife, Dharma, a distinguished economic historian, were very hospitable: their house was a haven for many visitors, both Indian and foreign. The talk one heard there made it a salon of rare sophistication.