Dilip Cherian | Cool-off debate rages on amid MNC absorbing senior officials

The recent appointment of Archana Goyal Gulati, former member of Niti Aayog and CCI, at Google, has revived the old debate

The Centre’s lateral entry policy in which it is hiring domain specialists from the public and private sectors is being offset by a trickle of high-profile exits of senior babus to the corporate world. In many instances, these babus have taken up lucrative assignments shortly after leaving the civil service or retirement, even though rules stipulate that officials have to undergo a year-long “cooling off” period.

The recent appointment of Archana Goyal Gulati, former member of Niti Aayog and Competition Commission of India (CCI), as head of public policy at Google, has revived the old debate. Sources say that Ms Gulati was posted at CCI when it ordered a probe into Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, Ms Gulati, however, has pointed out that she joined well after the end of the mandatory “cooling off” period. But murmurs are unlikely to die down.

Ms Gulati, however, is following in the footsteps of several other babus who decided to explore the challenges and opportunities offered up by brave new corporate world. In 2019, Anandvijay Jha left babudom after two decades for the greener pastures of a multinational, and further an international investment powerhouse. Last year, Rajiv Aggarwal, a UP cadre IAS officer, joined a global social media platform as head of policy.

It isn’t hard to see why senior babus are showing keen interest in leaving the confines of babudom, with its rules and restrictions, to join global companies. But the issue of having a mandatory cooling-off period for retired babus with corporate or even political ambitions needs greater debate. Does it lead to a better rapport between the government and private companies, as its votaries claim, or does it raise the inevitable questions about propriety, transparency, impartiality, etc. of such babus that may have dealings with a corporate entity in their official capacity and then join the same company later?

Babus regain control of law ministry
When unsure, fall back on the old and reliable. The Centre has apparently decided not to appoint officers from the Indian Legal Service (ILS) or law specialists as the Union secretary of the law ministry. It has chosen to rely on the old workhorse, the ubiquitous IAS, by naming 1990-batch IAS officer Nitin Chandra as the new law secretary.

Though this all-India service has existed since 1956, few in the public are aware of its existence. ILS officers are generally appointed at various levels, beginning with undersecretary in various departments including the legal affairs department, legislative department and the justice department of the ministry. Though ILS officers are largely appointed by the UPSC, officers are often taken on deputation from other departments as well.

Mr Chandra replaced A.K. Mendiratta, a judicial service officer, who was appointed as a judge of the Delhi high court earlier in February. Interestingly, it’s Mr Mendiratta who reportedly drafted the ill-fated farm laws that created such a stir, leading to a year-long agitation by protesting farmers. Recall that even the Chief Justice had lamented the fall in quality and precision of drafting legislation in the country.
This could perhaps hold a clue to Mr Chandra’s appointment. Perhaps the Centre felt that an IAS officer would be a better fit for the post. Sources have informed DKB that the stellar track record of previous law secretary Alok Srivastava might have persuaded the government to return the post to the IAS cadre.

Centre raps Haryana on postings
The tussle between IAS and IPS officers of Haryana over postings has escalated after the Centre’s intervention. Of late, the Manohar Lal Khattar government has been appointing non-cadre officers from IPS, IFS and IRS to cadre posts. Further, the state government had sought the Centre’s approval of 11 non-cadre officers for cadre posts.

Now the Centre has responded stating that the state government cannot post non-cadre officers to cadre posts beyond three months without the Centre’s prior approval. It has also sought from the state government details of all cadre officers against cadre posts. Sources say that the state government is yet to take a call to this directive from Delhi.

But the IPS Officers Association has written to state chief secretary Sanjeev Kaushal that there has been no violation of cadre rules. The IPS officers argue that the three posts of principal secretaries held by non-IAS officers are not cadre posts.

But that may not cut ice with the babus in Delhi. The IAS officers have clearly struck back at the Khattar sarkar, but whose will prevail? How Mr Kaushal responds to the Centre’s directive will give an indication.

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