Monday, December 6, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, December 06, 2010

UPA plans to be cautious in appointments for a change
Several key appointments are due in the next few months including new chairmen for the State Bank of India and several public sector banks, a new chief for the securities and exchange board and deputy governors for the reserve bank. The current incumbent at SBI, O. P. Bhatt, retires on March 31 and the Centre hopes to complete the selection process by January.

With the government reeling under the Opposition onslaught over a slew of scams, caution seems to be the byword. That explains why the government has constituted a high- level committee under cabinet secretary K. M. Chandrasekhar to shortlist candidates for the SBI job.
Though the selection is the prerogative of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, he is keeping the prime minister updated on all developments. The selection process could not have come at a more inopportune time. The recently unearthed housing scam has hit many of the biggest players in the realty lending sector and many senior officers of housing finance companies like the LIC Housing Finance, the Bank of India, the Central Bank of India and the Punjab National Bank have been arrested. At the rate they have been surfacing these past few months, there is every likelihood of this government being buried under an avalanche of scams by the time the next elections are due.

A senior bureaucrat tells me that while the government has set in motion due processes to deal with the spectrum, CWG and housing loan scams, it is keen that no further scams crop. So far, the appointment of PSU banks chiefs has been marked by hectic lobbying and the government has more often than not caved in to pressure from industrial houses, bureaucracy, ministers and even MPs. With just the prime minister and the finance minister now involved in the process, the aim is to make it as transparent and least controversial as possible.

Govt seems to have learnt from Thomas episode

As with PSU banks, so with bureaucrats, the government is learning from experience. There are signs of a tacit admission of an error of judgement on P. J. Thomas's selection as CVC. Last week, the department of personnel and training began an exercise to review the records of all senior bureaucrats who could be in line for sensitive postings in the near future.

The Thomas case has been an eye opener. He had never served as a joint or additional secretary at the Centre. Sources in the DoPT say that whenever he was sought to be empanelled as JS or AS, vigilance clearance was refused because he continued to figure as an accused in the 1991 palmolein corruption case in Kerala.

Yet he was directly cleared as a secretary at the Centre, first in the parliamentary affairs and later in the telecom.

Now hints are being dropped that he will step down. But the question still persists: what took him so long? His appointment had raised eyebrows for the manner in which the UPA government virtually bulldozed it through. Until Friday, it appeared the government was determined to brazen it out. Railway minister Mamata Banerjee's assertion on Friday that she will leave it to the prime minister to take a call on Thomas was a clear indication that the government was determined to have its way.

Technically, the only way Thomas could have been seen off was if he willingly stepped down or twothirds of the members of Parliament voted for his removal. Thomas had said midweek last he had no plans to quit, while his removal by parliament is an unreal prospect given the legislative arithmetic.

If the government stuck by the CVC despite all the brouhaha, it was only because there was a belief in official circles that asking Thomas to step down would accelerate the Opposition onslaught on several other issues.

The government seems to have drawn the right lessons from the Thomas episode. Hopefully, the new DoPT exercise will help avoid a repeat. Hindsight, forethought.

Heads have rolled in the government over the spectrum scam, but now the DMK has also initiated a cleaning up operation. Both A. Raja and Kanimozhi, who figured prominently in the Nira Radia tape conversations, are being relieved from all organisational posts in the wake of allegations of corruption in 2G spectrum allocation and their damning conversations during which they are said to have made " unauthorised claims" on the DMK participation in the Union Cabinet in 2009.

Unless the family prevails, the party is formally expected to announce its decision early next week. Tamil Nadu is poised for assembly elections next year and with the Jayalalithaa propaganda machine blaring out the inconvenient tapes in every nook and cranny of the state, the DMK is on correction mode.

Despite his fragile health, Karunanidhi has suddenly turned active on party matters again and recently was closeted for long hours, first with sons M. K. Alagiri and M. K. Stalin and later with grandnephews Dayanidhi and Kalanidihi Maran. Raja, whose continuation in the cabinet was once made non- negotiable by Karunanidhi, is suddenly persona non grata in the patriarch's Gopalapuram residence.

Sources tell me that the sudden flurry of activity is aimed at sending across the message that the DMK also has a zero tolerance policy against wrongdoers. But the bigger message perhaps it to the AICC. After the purge, we can work together in alliance for the assembly elections due next April.

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