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Cash cow at minister mercy

New Delhi, Feb. 13: Shiv Sena minister Subodh Mohite has been accused of mounting pressure on a top Bhel official to organise funds for elections.

Ishan Shankar, the senior-most official who was to take over as Bhel’s acting chairman-cum-managing director, went on leave on February 11 in a huff following the ad hoc appointment of Harshvardhan Bhatnagar as acting CMD at the junior heavy industry minister’s behest.

Sources said Bhatnagar’s appointment was opposed by bureaucrats and not cleared by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet.

Although the Public Enterprise Selection Board had recommended an extension for the last CMD, K.G. Ramachandran, the committee rejected it. Ramachandran was appointed for a term of five years or superannuation, whichever came earlier. On October 19, 2003, he completed five years and was asked to relinquish charge. He is due to retire on May 31, 2005.

Between October 19 and 29, there was no CMD and no alternative arrangements were made. On October 29, the board of directors resolved that with immediate effect, all matters requiring approval/decision of the CMD would be put to a committee of all functional directors and the senior-most director would be chairman, who would substitute the CMD. Ishan Shankar was appointed chairman of the committee.

But 18 days before Shankar retired on February 29, Bhatnagar was appointed.

Sources said constitution of the committee is violative of Articles of Association of the company and that the CMD can be replaced only by an individual and not by a committee of directors.

Questions being asked are:

Why was Ramachandran not given an extension despite recommendations by the selection board'

Why did the ministry take the unprecedented step of constituting a committee of directors when it had enough time to get a new CMD appointed'

Shankar was to retire on February 29. So what was the hurry to appoint Bhatnagar as acting CMD on February 11, especially when the appointments committee had not given its clearance'

When contacted, Mohite’s office yesterday said he is out of town and will return after a week.

K. Ashok Rao, the secretary-general of the National Confederation of Officers’ Associations of Central Public Sector Undertakings, alleged that Ramachandran “was asked to organise money and when he expressed his inability, he was told to pack up”.

Under Ramachandran, Bhel’s profit had swelled, he said. Share prices of the Navratna company — among the government’s crown jewels — went up and the selection board recommended an extension for him.

Rao said the “great hurry (to appoint Bhatnagar) was because they wanted a pliable officer who could organise money in the run-up to elections”.

“Most companies in the heavy industry are sick, the only wet area is Bhel,” he added.

On January 6, Rao had written to the Prime Minister alleging violation of “all administrative and legal norms” in the selection of the CMD.

“We have legitimate reason to believe that there are ulterior motives in rejecting the recommendations of PESB and making an ad hoc selection. We have serious apprehension that this is being done due to political compulsions of the forthcoming elections and, therefore, the need for a pliable person to head such a multi-crore industrial giant at this crucial juncture.”

The PMO, Rao regretted, did not even acknowledge his letter.

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