Assam CM shows off his street cred, but ‘rebuke’ to IAS officer backfires

The incident got more airtime because the NCP decided to take up cudgels for the poor hapless officer caught in the episode

Update: 2022-01-21 05:42 GMT
Assam education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is a man of the people and is vehemently opposed to “VIP culture”. He wants us all to believe that he has street cred. So, when the deputy commissioner of Nagaon district, Nisarg Havare, going strictly by the book, halted traffic to allow the chief minister to pass on his way to lay the foundation stone of a nearby road, Mr Sarma stopped his vehicle and rather sanctimoniously scolded a quivering Mr Havare for inconveniencing the travelling public.

Rarely does news emanate of granular everyday anxieties that young officers face, but Mr Sarma seems to have hit a speed breaker with his reprimanding the quivering DC. Caught on candid camera, or rigged to trigger popular acceptance, we are not sure. Whatever it may have been, the incident got more airtime because the NCP decided to take up cudgels for the poor hapless officer caught in the episode.

Naturally, questions have flowed. For instance, what was Mr Sarma inaugurating and why it wasn’t planned at a time when traffic is less dense? And why should the CM publicly humiliate the IAS officer who was merely following the protocol laid out for VIP travel? So, if Mr Sarma felt he had effectively made his point, he may be mistaken. The aam aadmi these days is less prone to be impressed with pious sermons on doing away with VIP culture from high dignitaries, especially after another traffic “escapade” of a VVIP in poll-bound Punjab recently. Changing the “babu mindset”, as Mr Sarma later tweeted, calls for more than mere grand gestures such as this.

Sadly, this crossfire may harm him more. But DKB is watching, and we hope that our faithful ground sources will keep us informed on the aftermath.

Centre moots amendment of deputation rules to bypass states

The Centre’s move to amend the rules of deputation and post IAS officers on central deputation bypassing the views of the state government will set up a confrontation with non-BJP-ruled states, which are often accused by the Centre of refusing to send officers on Central deputation, ostensibly on political grounds.

Clearly, the proposal was necessitated by the stand-off with the West Bengal government of Mamata Banerjee. It was precipitated by the state then chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay for his alleged “misconduct” during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state last year. Sources have informed DKB that the Centre has already sent letters to chief secretaries seeking their views on the deputation rules.

Very likely that the proposal will widen the rift between North Block and Nabanna, the seat of the WB government, and also meet with resistance from other Opposition-ruled states. They are likely to oppose the move as another step towards weakening the states at the cost of the Centre. The proposal, if passed, will allow the Centre to decide how many officers a state can retain. Also, the fear is that the Centre can unilaterally pick any officer from any state without seeking the views of the concerned state government, which would harm the state’s interests.

ONGC gets another stand-in CMD

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s director of human resources, Alka Mittal, has been entrusted with the additional charge of chairperson and managing director (CMD), making her the first woman to head the government-owned company in its history. The government in a statement said that Ms Mittal will remain in her new role for the next six months until a full-time CMD is appointed or “until further orders”.

Delays in appointments to top posts in PSUs is by now no surprise, but ONGC is the most profitable of the government-owned companies and such inordinate holding patterns are puzzling, to say the least. The Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB) had interviewed nine candidates, including two serving IAS officers, for the CMD post but failed to select anyone. Instead, it announced the setting up of a search committee, which further delayed matters.

Despite all this groundwork, Ms Mittal’s appointment has been announced two days after Subhash Kumar, the director of finance, who was holding additional charge of CMD superannuated in December. ONGC has not had a full-time CMD since the retirement of Shashi Shankar in March last year.

Hopefully, the petroleum babus and the Public Enterprises Selection Board will not take as much time in appointing Mr Kumar’s successor or in finding a full-time CMD for ONGC.

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