Change Of Guard
In the backdrop of the ongoing controversy raging over a new gas pricing regime, the change of guard in the Petroleum Ministry and at two public sector companies was watched with great interest by babu-watchers. And remember also, that after elections and the imminent change at the Centre, it is quite likely that petroleum policies will receive a lot of scrutiny as will these new incumbents. Among the many “heavies” reportedly contending for the position of Petroleum Secretary was Jawed Usmani, currently Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh. However the Government named 1978-batch IAS officer Saurabh Chandra to take over from Vivek Rae. The other big change was the naming of Dinesh Kumar Saraf as the head of Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC). Apparently, Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily was keen to give an extension to incumbent Sudhir Vasudeva, but Cabinet shot it down. Meanwhile, B. Ashok is poised to take over as Chairman of Indian Oil, while Nishi Vasudeva has taken over as the Chief of Hindustan Petroleum, becoming the first woman in India to head an oil company.
Of late Indian diplomacy hasn’t been all that shiny. Be it relations with neighbours or the United States following the Devyani debacle, it seems to have hit a rough patch. But in the last days of the UPA Government, the Ministry of External Affairs is all set to name new ambassadors in an apparent bid to boost diplomatic ties. Consequently many prominent IFS officers will be moving from their current assignments. Among the important appointments is that of China expert and 1984-batch IFS officer Gautam Bambawale as ambassador to Bhutan, which is a crucial buffer between Indian and China. Among other key assignments, sources say, are that of Ruchi Ghanshyam who will be the new High Commissioner to South Africa, Ajay Bisaria as ambassador to Poland and Vikram Doraiswamy, currently head of the Americas desk as ambassador to Uzbekistan. That India is, belatedly, beginning to focus on strengthening its diplomatic muscle was indicated by Finance Minister P Chidambaram when he announced a 20 per cent hike in the nation’s diplomatic budget. But are such measures enough?
Uttar Pradesh has a distinct and unenvious record under Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, especially in matters relating to the State’s administration. A highly politicised bureaucracy has led to allegations of administrative laxity and routine mass transfer of babus. It is said that no bureaucrat in the State lasts an average of three months in any posting! Curiously, Mr Yadav had, with typical fanfare, announced a transfer policy last year, stipulating the conditions for transferring bureaucrats. Typically, again, it is more honoured in the breach than the observance! But even cynical observers were taken aback when the UP Government recently effected the biggest bureaucratic reshuffles in recent times by transferring 233 officials in a single day, including 26 IAS officers and 15 police officers in the State. Probably it anticipated the State High Court’s decision a few days later, under which all transfers in the State are banned till Mr Yadav’s Government set up the State Civil Services Board as stipulated by the recent amendment in the IAS cadre rules. Chief secretary Jawed Usmani however described the transfers as “a mandatory exercise” prior to the general elections which is the contemporary euphemism for ensuring “unbiased” elections.