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Politics clouds shuffling of senior bureaucrats

By Sunita Moga
March 29, 2013 12:48 IST
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As eight senior secretaries get ready to demit office in the next few months, there is speculation and a sense of anticipation in official circles about which of these officers will get lucky and be granted an extension or given a post-retirement job in a government or quasi-government body, says Sunita Moga

The concerned bureaucrats have every reason to hope for the best as the United Progressive Alliance government has shown a marked preference for not letting go of retired officials.

A cursory look at the appointments made over the past few years shows that retired bureaucrats have been handpicked for a variety of jobs, ranging from governor’s post and appointment as information commissioners to positions in the various commissions such as the Union Public Service Commission and the National Commission for Minorities.

Keeping up this trend, Planning Commission Secretary Sindhushree Khullar, who is due to retire this month-end, has been appointed mission director of the Direct Benefits Transfer scheme while continuing with her present duties.

Khullar, who is held in high esteem by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was specially chosen to oversee the implementation of the DBT scheme, billed as the UPA II’s flagship programme.

It is important for the beleaguered ruling coalition that this scheme is rolled out successfully as it is depending on it to improve its image which has been sullied by a string of corruption scandals.

While the planning secretary has been given a crucial job, her husband and Former Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar was appointed as the chairman of the telecom regulatory Authority of India last year.

A 1975 batch IAS officer of Delhi cadre, Khullar is also said to be favourite of this regime. He was given the charge of TRAI at a time when the telecom sector was in the throes of a crisis and the regulator and telecom operators were at loggerheads over its recommendation on the spectrum auction.

Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth is among the eight senior bureaucrats who will be completing their tenure in the coming months. However, if the buzz in government circles is to be believed Seth may get an extension beyond his two-year tenure which ends this May.

As the next Lok Sabha election is less than a year away, the UPA government wants there to be continuity in the top echelons of the bureaucracy.

Being the senior-most IAS officer, the cabinet secretary is entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the government’s policies and programmes.

Finding itself at a critical juncture, the UPA government does not want to change horses midstream and would prefer to deal with a known person. As in the other two cases, the prime minister is said to have high regard for Seth and would like to retain him till the government is in the saddle.

Hectic lobbying is currently on for three other important posts which will be falling vacant shortly.  Secretaries of home, defence and external affairs will be completing their tenure soon. The outgoing Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma is said to be in the race for the post of Comptroller and Auditor General as the present incumbent Vinod Rai will step down this May.

Rai’s departure will be a big relief for the UPA government as the CAG reports on the allocation of spectrum, the Commonwealth Games, allocation of coal blocks and civil aviation ministry, proved to be the ruling combine’s undoing as it   had a tough time defending itself in the face of compelling facts presented  by the constitutional body.

Besides Sharma, Telecom Secretary R Chandrashekhar, who retires this May, is also learnt to be in contention for the top constitutional post.

Home Secretary R K Singh, who demits office this June, is also lobbying for a post-retirement position. He is unlikely to get an extension as he did not get on particularly well with Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

The aspirants for this job include Steel Secretary Dilip Rai Singh and Madhav Lal, secretary in the ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises. While Personnel Secretary P K Mishra is also being mentioned for this post, there is talk that
he may be appointed member of the UPSC.

Speculation is also rife about Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai’s successor. Sujata Singh, India’s ambassador to Germany, tops the list of contenders. If she does get this plum post, she will be the second woman to head this ministry in the past four years.

Nirupama Rao, who went on to take charge as India’s ambassador to the US, had been Mathai’s predecessor.

The names of India’s ambassador to China S S Jaishankar  and secretary west Sudhir Vyas are also being mentioned for the much-coveted foreign secretary’s post. While Jaishankar enjoys a formidable reputation in the foreign service, Vyas is a hot favorite these days because of his deft handling of the Italian marines row.

It is learnt R K Mathur, secretary defence production, could take over as the next defence secretary while food and Consumer Affairs Secretary Pankaj Agarwal is said to be in line for the post of telecom secretary.

Seven secretaries retiring in coming months: Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, Home Secretary R K Singh, Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma, Foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai, Telecom Secretary R Chandrashekhar, Planning Secretary Shindushree Khullar, DOPT secretary P K Mishra and I&B secretary Uday Verma. CAG Vinod Rai’s term ends this May.

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Sunita Moga in New Delhi