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Friday, December 03, 2021

An Express Investigation: Not politicians alone, ready perch for bureaucrats too in PSU boards

Records obtained through the Right to Information Act and also investigated by The Indian Express show that at least 46 retired bureaucrats serve on the boards of 40 PSUs.

Written by Shyamlal Yadav | New Delhi |
Updated: July 2, 2021 7:36:41 am
1980-batch Gujarat-cadre IAS, retired in December 2013, was central information commissioner till December 2018. Appointed as Independent Director with ONGC, a maharatna PSU, in July 2019.

It’s not just politicians linked to the ruling BJP who have been made Independent Directors on the boards of Public Sector Undertakings. When it comes to patronage from the ruling establishment, officialdom isn’t far behind.

Records obtained through the Right to Information Act and also investigated by The Indian Express show that at least 46 retired bureaucrats serve on the boards of 40 PSUs.

In the first of this series Monday, The Indian Express investigation of 146 PSUs — for which details were available —revealed that of the 172 Independent Directors in 98 PSUs, 86 on 67 boards are linked to the ruling BJP.

Raising questions of propriety and conflict of interest, some bureaucrats worked in senior positions in ministries with administrative control or links to the PSUs where they are now Independent Directors, the records show.

Consider:

Sanjay Kumar Panda: A 1980-batch IAS officer from the Manipur-Tripura cadre, he served as Secretary in the Ministry of Textiles for 17 months before his retirement in August 2015. On August 9, 2018, he was appointed as Independent Director at The Jute Corporation of India Ltd, under the same Ministry.

“The appointment and functioning of an Independent Director in any PSU is guided by statutory provisions and instructions issued. I feel it provides an organisation the advantages of institutional wisdom, particularly in strategic planning, execution and management. For example, based on my interest and experience, I made good suggestions on CSR initiatives, which made the initiative more meaningful. I don’t find any clash of interest as the role is advisory,” Panda said.

Sunil Kumar Kohli: In August 2018, this Indian Defence Accounts Service officer retired as Financial Advisor (Defence Services). He had earlier worked as Controller General of Defence Accounts under the Ministry of Defence. On July 24, 2019, he was appointed as Independent Director with Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) under the same Ministry.

“There is no conflict of interest. An Independent Director is not an employee and only attends board meetings. I retired as a Financial Advisor, whose work is to see things with due diligence. No one rewarded me for being loyal to anyone,” Kohli said.

Subhash Chander Negi: This 1978-batch IAS officer from the Himachal Pradesh cadre occupied senior positions in the power sector, including as CMD of the HP State Electricity Board, and State Power Secretary. After his retirement in September 2010, he was chairman of HP Electricity Regulatory Commission. On March 25, 2019, he was appointed as Independent Director of Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (SJVNL). SJVNL is a PSU under the Ministry of Power and a joint venture of the Central Government and the state government.

“I uploaded my CV in 2016, I did not seek any recommendation from anyone. My selection was on merit. They might have selected me because of my experience in the power sector,” Negi said.

B P Pande: A 1983-batch IAS officer from the Uttarakhand cadre, he was CMD of Rural Electrification Corporation Ltd (REC) and Special Secretary, Union Ministry of Power. Pande retired on March 31, 2017. On December 13, 2018, he was appointed as Independent Director with Northern Coalfields Ltd, a PSU under the Ministry of Coal.

Significantly, Pande is also Independent Director in three state PSUs: Uttarakhand Power Corporation Ltd since September 28, 2018; Power Transmission Corporation of Uttarakhand Ltd since September 27, 2018; and, Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd since March 5, 2018.

Pande was unavailable for comment.

Mala Sinha: An Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS) officer, she served as Additional Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General (North Eastern region) until retirement in November 2017. On July 11, 2019, she was appointed as Independent Director with North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd, a PSU administered by the Union Power Ministry. Sinha could not be reached for comment.

Then, there are several cases of bureaucrats who held powerful positions before being appointed as Independent Directors in PSUs — from a former central information commissioner to the current vice-chancellor of a central university, and those in the revenue and forest services.

Amitava Bhattacharyya: 1980-batch Gujarat-cadre IAS, retired in December 2013, was central information commissioner till December 2018. Appointed as Independent Director with ONGC, a maharatna PSU, in July 2019. “I have never dealt with the petroleum sector as an information commissioner so there is no conflict of interest,” he said.

R C Mishra: 1978-batch Manipur-Tripura-cadre IAS. After retirement in November 2012, worked as Appellate Authority for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction under the Department of Financial Services (Ministry of Finance). Since October 2019, he is vice-chancellor of National Sports University in Manipur. Appointed as Independent Director with Power Finance Corporation Ltd on July 11, 2019.

Mishra did not respond to requests for comment from The Indian Express.

Records also show that the IAS dominates the pool among services with at least eight retired officers currently serving as Independent Directors in PSUs. Apart from the five listed above, they include: Arun Kumar (1983, Assam), Alka Panda (1983, Odisha), Vishwanath Giriraj (1985, Maharashtra).

In fact, Arun Kumar, the former Mines Secretary, is among three retired bureaucrats who are Independent Directors with Balmer Lawrie & Co Ltd, mainly a travel and logistics enterprise under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. The other two are retired IRS officer Arun Tandon and former Indian Forest Service officer Anil Kumar Upadhyay.

Alka Panda, who retired in July 2017 as D-G, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), is an Independent Director with Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Ltd, which is a subsidiary of Coal India Ltd under the Union Ministry of Coal. And Giriraj, who retired as Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) of Maharashtra in October 2017, is with Andrew Yule & Co Ltd.

The list includes a former IRS officer who was part of an agency tracking economic offences before being appointed on a PSU board. Archana Ranjan retired as D-G, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, in April 2015. On August 9, 2018, she was appointed as Independent Director with Food Corporation of India. Ranjan declined to comment.

Among other senior officials, Pandya Ashwinkumar Balvantray, a former chairman of the Central Water Commission, is Independent Director with National Fertilizers Ltd. “CWC also partially deals with irrigation and irrigated agriculture. At the NFL, they are generating products for agriculture. So there is a sort of connection between the two,” he said.

“We are appointed to see whether the company is going on the right track,” said Air Marshal Virender Mohan Khanna (retd), who was appointed as an Independent Director with Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd in February 2020, nearly five years after retirement. “Once actual meetings start again, I will be able to contribute more,” he said.

Capt Anoop Kumar Sharma, former CMD of Shipping Corporation of India, retired in September 2019 and was appointed on November 10, 2020 as Independent Director with Kamarajar Port Ltd — both entities come under the Union Ministry of Shipping.

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