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CBI put pressure, said defer top job interview: PSU board to Cab Sec

The board decided to bring the matter to the notice of the Cabinet Secretary because it felt the CBI had not followed proper procedure.

We alerted them: CBI director Ranjit Sinha. We alerted them: CBI director Ranjit Sinha.

The Public Enterprises Selection Board  (PESB) has complained to the Cabinet Secretary that the CBI was trying to put “undue pressure” on the board and its selection process by sending an unsigned note seeking postponement of an interview to select the new Chairman-cum-Managing Director of the Cement Corporation of India.

PESB Chairman Atul Chaturvedi has asked Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth to take “appropriate action” as this affects the autonomous functioning of the board which is responsible for selecting candidates to important posts across public sector entities.

He has pointed out that the CBI is an investigating body and should seek information only through “prescribed procedures” and cannot act like an agency of  “vigilance or preventive vigilance”.

In a letter dated May 5, Chaturvedi said CBI Joint Director (Policy) Javed Ahmed delivered an unsigned note on March 26, a day before the scheduled interview, to PESB member R Gopalan. “Apart from raising certain issues regarding the shortlisting of the applicants, the CBI suggested to the PESB to review the propriety of the interview being held on 27.03.2014 till the issues are settled.”

The letter records that Gopalan even spoke to CBI Director Ranjit Sinha on the issue and since Chaturvedi was on leave, other members of the board met and decided to proceed with the interview since they could not take cognisance of an unsigned note. The interview was held the next day.

The board decided to bring the matter to the notice of the Cabinet Secretary because it felt the CBI had not followed proper procedure.

“Legal validity or practice of forwarding such unsigned note or the purpose of such a communication is not clear. To my understanding, the CBI is an investigating agency and it can seek preliminary information from the PESB, but only through prescribed procedures. CBI cannot become an agency of vigilance or preventive vigilance and seek to direct unprecedented course of action of postponement of prescheduled interviews in an autonomous office like the PESB,” Chaturvedi stated in the letter.

“It may amount to interference of the CBI with an intent to put undue outside pressure on the PESB and its selection process,” he said.

When his comments were sought, CBI Director Ranjit Sinha sought to play down the matter, calling it a “routine practice” to alert different departments about complaints against them. “I don’t think we asked for any postponement. But yes, we do make various departments aware about complaints against them.”

On the question of unsigned notes and following proper procedure, Sinha said: “This is done. I don’t know why they are making a mountain of a molehill. We alerted them and they still decided to go ahead with the interview. That was their decision.”

The unsigned note, however, does mention towards the end that the “propriety of interview being held on 27.03.2014 may be reviewed” in the light of certain alterations to the list.

The issue by itself relates to the shortlisting of candidates. The PESB first drew up a list of 15 candidates. Apparently, one more candidate was added days before the interview. The CBI highlighted this in its note and that one of the already shortlisted candidates was suddenly on top of the seniority list.

The counter for this, sources said, lies in the way lists are prepared. Each list is divided in to two broad categories — those who are from within the PSU concerned and those who have applied from outside.

In this case, one of the candidates — Manoj Mishra who was eventually selected — was a CCI employee who had been on lien or loaned to another PSU and was treated as an outsider. This lien was terminated before the interview which, sources said, made him eligible as an internal candidate. He was also the seniormost within CCI and thus, made it to the top of the list.

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