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Reading between lines: Secretary level reshuffle, making and breaking of myths

By Rakesh Ranjan- 27 Apr 2020
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The NaMo administration on Akshay-Tritiya (April 26) effected a major administrative shake-up that shocked, surprised and perplexed one and all across the bureaucratic hierarchy.

Three-month extension to Union Health Secretary Ms Preety Sudan and appointment of Rajesh Bhushan as OSD in the Department of Health, reflected the government’s seriousness and preparedness towards fight against COVID-19.

Among all appointments and reshuffle, what has astonished the most is the appointment of Pawan Kumar Agarwal as Special Secretary, Logistics. Probably it was for the first time in the last several decades that a full-fledged secretary rank IAS officer has been appointed to a level below i.e. secretary equivalent post.

Further, A K Sharma’s appointment as  Secretary in MSME Ministry headed by Nitin Gadkari, too, is not an exception. It was widely speculated that Sharma, for obvious reasons, might be drafted as Secretary, PMO. Probably it narrates the inside story and balance of power in PMO. Sharma’s appointment also underlines that PM Modi treats his close aides in a unique manner else what would define G C Murmu’s post-retirement reward as Lt Governor of J&K. Murmu who was widely speculated to become ED chief but instead, he was frequently moved from the Department of Expenditure to DFS  and Revenue as Additional Secretary and then as Secretary, Expenditure. Nothing comes easily in the NaMo administration. In the time to come Sharma's assignment may prove to be a temporary arrangement only.

Nagendra Nath Sinha’s shift on a lateral shift basis from Border Management to the Department of Rural Development too needs to be seen from a wider perspective. Rural Development is something which is key to Modi’s model of administration bringing governance to the doorsteps of the rural households. At a time when Modi was seen losing his prospects in the run-up to 2019 elections turned out to be a historic victory due to the immense response from the Rural folks. Expectation from N N Sinha to fit into the shoes of Amarjit Sinha underlines the challenges of his uphill task that he is entrusted with.

Moving to Finance Ministry, the appointment of Tarun Bajaj has surprised none. For officers across batches and cadres, Bajaj’s appointment is being termed as a perfect choice to steer DEA. It will be interesting to see the performance of two former PMO guys in the FinMin. It is believed that after re-aligning the fiscal deficit and expenditure management, Dr T V Somanathan would continue holding the turf in FinMin to take up the unaccomplished agenda of ABP Pandey next year.

Shifting Ravi Mittal from I&B to Sports vice Radheshyam Julania is another decision that drew everyone’s attention. It unravels two important aspects. First, Julania was reportedly never satisfied with his portfolio at the Centre and had been exploring an avenue for a satisfying assignment back in the cadre. Secondly, connect between Julania and the concerned minister was missing.

In view of the additional charge of I&B to Amit Khare, if one has a close look at the frequent additions to Khare’s responsibility he appears to be in the role of Man Friday which signifies the government’s trust in his administrative skill and art of tight-rope walk.

Food and Public Distribution Secretary Ravi Kant, who once forayed into Secretaryship in Shipping ministry, has finally landed at the Department of Ex-Serviceman Welfare. Insiders in the shipping sector term it a poetic justice. Amid COVID-19 crises and the importance of food and public distribution his departure from the department makes people curious.  

Indu Shekhar Chaturvedi, presently in the cadre, replacing Anand Kumar as Secretary MNRE appears more of giving Chaturvedi a suitable job whereas Kumar moving to Culture ministry fulfills a long-pending gap. It may be recalled that Chaturvedi was once JS, PMO  in Manmohan Singh’s tenure. Similarly Sudhanshu Panday, Mrs Leena Nandan, and Rameshwar Prasad Gupta too have got their dues with reasonable assignments of Food and Public Distribution, Consumer Affairs and Environment and Forests and Climate Change respectively.

Ajay Tirkey as Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development and CBSE Chairperson Mrs Anita Karwal as Secretary School Education were among a few fortunate to be posted in the rank and pay of Secretary in their own ministries. It appeared that the School Education Secretary post was kept vacant for several months for Mrs Karwal only. Contrary to these two postings it was earlier speculated that MSME DC Ram Mohan Mishra too might be given posting in his own ministry which did not happen.

Secretary-level postings which were discussed in the bureaucratic circle the most include MoRTH Secretary Sanjeev Ranjan as Shipping Secretary; EO Pradeep Kumar Tripathy as Steel Secretary; VC DDA Tarun Kapoor as Secretary Petroleum; Giridhar Aramane as Secretary Road Transport and Highways. 

Handing over the crucially important department (i.e. Corporate Affairs) held by an Odisha cadre officer Injeti Sriniwas to another Odisha cadre officer Rajesh Verma too offers something to decipher.

Last but not least! It may be observed that Mrs Jyoti Arora (IAS:1987:HY) was given Special Secretary whereas her batchmates B Anand (IAS:1987:TN) and Mrs Neel Kamal Darbari (IAS:1987:RJ)  given Secretary rank. Six batchmates from freshly empanelled batch i.e. 1988 namely; Bidyut Bihari Swain (IAS:1988:GJ), Apurva Chandra (IAS:1988:MH), Ali Raza Rizwi (IAS:1988:HP), Praveen Kumar Srivastava (IAS:1988:AM), Arvind Singh (IAS:1988:MH), Indevar Pandey (IAS:1988:WB); were elevated in the rank of Special Secretary.

One more name in the list which draws attention uniquely is Rajiv Bansal (IAS:1988:NL) which has resemblance with Ravi Mittal (IAS:1986:BH) albeit a little differently. One may recall that before becoming I&B Secretary Ravi Mittal served in DFS (Banking) as Special Secretary and was supposed for a posting as Secretary, DFS. A month before Rajiv Kumar was to retire in February 2020 Mittal was shifted as I&B Secretary clearing the deck for Debashish Panda. Similarly, Bansal too was shifted from Petroleum to Air India as CMD a few weeks before his empanelment as Secretary and subsequently a little earlier to the retirement of Petroleum Secretary M M Kutty. Still Bansal has robust reasons to stay cheered up is that the NaMo administration has send out a good signal by promoting him in the rank and pay of Secretary, Government of India. And why not if he has three complete years in service to move upwardly.

(By Rakesh Ranjan)

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