New Delhi, Dec. 16: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in a letter issued to his Cabinet colleagues, has reminded them of the need to strictly follow guidelines regarding top appointments to public sector undertakings (PSUs). He warned that he has asked the Cabinet secretary “to closely monitor and bring instances of infringement and non-compliance to my notice”.
His letter has been written in the backdrop of an unseemly row within the Cabinet over the removal of Ashwini Lohani, a railway service engineer and former head of the railway museum in New Delhi, who was till recently running ITDC.
Lohani had turned around the hotel chain and was a favourite of his boss Jagmohan. However, he had earned the ire of the pro-disinvestment lobby within the government for reportedly leaking out embarrassing details about PSU hotel selloffs.
At one stage, Shourie and Lohani had engaged in bouts of shadow-boxing after the disinvestment minister alleged misrule in the state-run Hotel Corporation of India (HCI) through newspaper columns. Rival news stories suggested that hotels, which had been sold off, were under-priced. Lohani was removed earlier this month despite the lobbying by his boss for his retention.
Vajpayee, whose office has the final say in all PSU appointments, obviously wants to discourage the appointment of favourites as well as removals that could generate controversy for him. This has become particularly important for the Prime Minister given the controversy surrounding the entire disinvestment process.
In his letter dated December 9, Vajpayee said: “Based on recommendations of the committee on public sector undertakings and several expert committees, the central government has evolved policy guidelines…These instructions are binding on the administrative ministries and public sector undertakings. In the recent past, some instances of violations and non-compliance of these policy guidelines and instructions have come to my notice.”
To counter this, the letter goes on to say “needless to stress, violations including delays in compliance, whether wilful or otherwise are avoidable as they tend to undermine the functional autonomy of the undertakings and ultimately lead to their inefficient management (which is) detrimental to the economy of the country. Besides, such aberrations attract judicial intervention and adverse publicity to the government as a whole.”