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Helmsman hunt hots up in SAIL

New Delhi, Dec. 11: The government will kick-start the process of selecting a chairman for the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) this week. About a dozen PSU directors will be interviewed for the job to run the Rs 34,000-crore company.

Some of the top contenders include director (personnel) S.K. Rungta, who had fallen out with steel minister Ram Vilas Paswan over spot coal purchases. The other is finance director G.C. Daga, who is considered close to SAIL chief V.S. Jain.

Jain retires in August next year. But the hunt for a new chief has already begun because the government does not want to keep the hot seat vacant. Though the selection will be done by the Public Sector Enterprises Selection Board, the steel minister and the Prime Ministerís Office will have a considerable say in the final selection.

In fact, many say PM has the last word on appointing chairmen for navratna public sector units like SAIL, ONGC, Indian Oil, NTPC and Bhel, as these jobs are considered too important to be decided by anyone below the PM.

Several managing directors and executive directors of steel plants are also in the race for the SAIL chief's job.

They include Shoeb Ahmed, executive director in the marketing division, who had to bear the brunt of negative media reports on SAIL during his stint as head of public relations in Delhi in the late 1990s.

M. Roy, executive director of Salem steel plant, is another contender. The minister had earlier sought to put him in-charge of the marketing division.

Several other executive directors who have recently been selected as managing directors of steel plants are also in the race. But with the file on their appointments still stuck with the ministry, they are unsure where they actually stand.

Among them are, V.K. Gulati, who will take charge of Durgapur Steel Plant, and R. Ramaraju, who will take over as managing director of the biggest and most profitable SAIL plant ' Bhilai.

Rungta is considered an efficient marketing person. However, his decisions over spot coal purchases were called into question. Several MPs wrote to Paswan questioning the spot coal purchases made by SAIL last year due to shortage of supply from Australia.

Australian mines were flooded, which led to severe coal shortages for SAIL. The steel firm was forced to ration the input till it booked coal through spot purchases.

A committee comprising Rungta, other SAIL directors and joint secretaries from the ministry had made the purchase decisions. However, when Paswan ordered a probe on the basis of the letters from MPs, Rungta alone went on leave as he was the principal functionary.

Daga has a strong financial background and may prove to be a formidable candidate. But managing directors and executive directors of other steel plants have equally impressive reputations of having turned around sick plants and will prove to be an equal challenge.

During the second quarter ended September 30, the steel maker had reported a drop in earnings due to higher tax provisions. The companyís net profit stood at Rs 1,126.76 crore, down 25.53 per cent from Rs 1,513.15 crore in the same period last year.

The net profit was lower mainly due to a higher tax provision of Rs 270 crore, Jain said.

Total income, however, increased 5.11 per cent to Rs 7,156.27 crore during the quarter from Rs 6,789.42 crore a year ago.

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