Opinion Columnists 27 Jul 2021 Dilip Cherian | With ...
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Dilip Cherian | With Scindia at helm, Air India’s divestment back in focus

Published Jul 28, 2021, 12:23 am IST
Updated Jul 28, 2021, 12:23 am IST
The move surprised many since it is widely believed that Sushil Kumar is a trusted officer of the ED chief
It is been made clear to the babus in the civil aviation ministry that the divestment of Air India is the top priority of the government this year. (PTI Photo)
 It is been made clear to the babus in the civil aviation ministry that the divestment of Air India is the top priority of the government this year. (PTI Photo)

The privatisation of the national carrier Air India is being watched keenly both within the government and outside. The well-regarded and efficient civil aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola is busy speeding things up on the divestment process. It had, insiders concur, got delayed by the government’s own red tape and then the Covid pandemic. And, with newly inducted minister Jyotiraditya Scindia on board who is a former investment banker, with a firm grip on things, there is reason for some to start believing that the sale of Air India is finally on course for take-off.

It is been made clear to the babus in the civil aviation ministry that the divestment of Air India is the top priority of the government this year. And Mr Kharola has the full attention of his mantri now. When there’s total focus on one ministry, babus also feel more empowered, we’ve seen.

 

Apparently, Mr Kharola and his cohorts at Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan are seeking to step up the pace of privatisation by exploring the added option of limiting the benefits of Air India employees till such time as the government is the owner of the carrier. This is to make the airline more attractive to private bidders who then can have new terms for employees and tweak compensation packages.
All eyes are on the move since it is widely believed that it may well become the template for the privatisation of other public sector companies that the government is also planning to put on the block.

 

Haryana govt keen to shine bright

The Manohar Lal Khattar sarkar in Haryana has tightened the screws on government officers to improve its public image. IAS and IPS officers, and others who are facing CBI probes, will not be given field assignments or posts where they deal with the public. Public awareness of this is expected to be politically advantageous.

State chief secretary Vijai Vardhan has issued an order directing that “officers for whom sanction to prosecute has been granted by the competent authority or court has framed charges in a criminal case stand debarred” for field postings or positions involving public dealing.”  

 

To give further evidence of its intent, the state government has recently sacked a 1991-batch IAS officer, Sandeep Garg, for corruption. Mr Garg was under suspension since 2016 after his conviction by a CBI court for amassing assets disproportionate to his known income. The termination from service follows the approval from the department of personnel and training at the Centre. Mr Garg, reportedly, is only the second IAS officer from the state to be dismissed for corruption.

Undoubtedly, the Garg case is just a warning to corrupt babus that the government is serious about “cleaning the Augean stables”. Hopefully, this current enthusiasm of the state government will last long enough to leave an abiding impact on the administration.

 

Pegasus prelude or ED under routine scanner?

The recent repatriation of Enforcement Directorate (ED) special director Sushil Kumar to his parent cadre the Central Board of Direct Taxation (CBDT) has set tongues wagging. The order came from the department of revenue.
The move surprised many since it is widely believed that Sushil Kumar is a trusted officer of the ED chief. Apparently, the repatriation order was directed by the finance ministry, which acted on intelligence reports, overruling the ED top brass. In this time of Pegasus revelations, those in law enforcement, including the ED are no longer sure, who’s been snooping on whom.

 

Clearly, all is not well in the ED, the premier agency that investigates economic offences in India. Its officers may groan that their workload has risen but so have allegations of faulty policing. Just a few days before this, two senior ED officials were arrested by the CBI for allegedly demanding a bribe from the owner of a Gujarat-based firm that is being probed for bank fraud. The arrest of deputy director P.K. Singh and assistant director Bhuvnesh Kumar has caused serious embarrassment to the agency. Sources say that in recent years ED has been dominated by officers from the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), which may not have gone down well with the police officers. These moves seem to be the government’s attempts to fix the agency’s reputation quickly before serious damage is done. No one is saying it yet, but these moves do not auger well for the top brass in national agencies beyond just this one.

 

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