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Best recruitment practices

A K Bhattacharya | June 15, 2004

The finance ministry's official website is currently carrying two notices from Finance Minister P Chidambaram.

"I intend to appoint one or two persons in the rank of Additional Private Secretary in the scale of Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,200 in my personal office. I shall be happy to consider names of willing candidates from the IRS (IT) and IRS (C&CE)", says one notice.

Another notice has a similar message: "I intend to appoint a Private Secretary and an Officer on Special Duty in the rank of Deputy Secretary/ Director. Officers now working in the Ministry of Finance who wish to be considered for either of the two posts may send in their CV through the concerned Secretary/ CEA."

The notices have been displayed on the website for a couple of weeks and give an idea of the new finance minister's plans to expand his personal office in North Block.

It can be assumed that Chidambaram prefers officers from the Indian Revenue Service to assist him in his personal office, although in his second notice for the post of private secretary and officer on special duty, he has shown no such preference.

Any officer working in the finance ministry can be considered for the two posts. But Chidambaram's preference for an IRS officer or, otherwise, is not the issue.

What makes this initiative a subject of debate or scrutiny is the transparency and openness with which the finance minister has gone about identifying key staff members of his personal office.

All Union ministries now maintain websites of their own. But Chidambaram would, perhaps, be the first minister to have used the Net to fill up vacancies in his personal office.

A search for the right candidate through the Net kills many birds with one stone. It expands the choice because more people can apply for the job, even while the protocol of routing the applications through the head of the department is honoured.

Many Indian Administrative Service officers have complained in the past that key appointments in central ministries are finalised without proper search.

They feel that there are quite a few competent officers posted in various states, who never get a chance to be considered for postings at Union ministries, even though they are eligible for deputation to the Centre. And this happens because they don't even come to know of the vacancies that arise in different ministries from time to time.

If Chidambaram could use the website to conduct a search for candidates for appointment in his personal office, why can't the same device be used for filling up senior appointments in different ministries?

For instance, Finance Secretary D C Gupta will reach his retirement age in October this year. The search for a new finance secretary should begin by September. Will Chidambaram put out such a notice to identify the best officer to succeed Gupta as the finance secretary? It is a thought worth a close look.

Across the road, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also assessed the candidature of as many as 10 senior IAS officers before making up his mind on appointing B K Chaturvedi as the new Cabinet secretary. Singh did not use the website to conduct the search.

But because an elaborate search process preceded the appointment and because Chaturvedi, a 1966 batch IAS officer, has a clean track record, the decision has not evoked any protests so far.

This is despite the fact that the decision to give Chaturvedi a two-year tenure as Cabinet secretary has meant that no IAS officer belonging to the batches of 1967 and 1968 will stand a chance to be considered for the Cabinet secretary's job because they will retire by the time Chaturvedi completes his two-year tenure.

In the normal course, Chaturvedi would have retired as petroleum secretary by the end of July 2004. But Singh decided to cut short Kamal Pande's two-year tenure as Cabinet secretary and have his own man instead. That was unlike Singh.

As finance minister in 1991, Singh persisted with the same team that he inherited, for about six months.  His entire team in North Block changed, but the change was gradual and the process was completed only by the time he was preparing to present his second Budget.

As prime minister, Singh is busy putting his new team in place. Almost all his key appointments have been completed. Only one appointment seems to have been left. And that pertains to the key question of who he will have as his economic advisor.

Will it be Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who completes his tenure as director of the Independent Evaluation Office in the International Monetary Fund next month? Or is he being considered for something bigger?

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