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Saha leads race for IAS top job

Patna, Aug. 17: Development commissioner Kirti Chandra Saha is understood to be the frontrunner for the post of chief secretary once Anup Mukerji retires on September 30.

Top sources said chief minister Nitish Kumar had stressed on “well-defined criteria” to pick his chief secretary. So far, the sources pointed out, the chief minister has stuck to the criteria and appointed only officers working as development commissioner as the chief secretary.

In rank and profile, the development commissioner’s post is treated on a par with that of the chief secretary. IAS officials, however, conventionally treat the development commissioner’s position only second to that of the chief secretary in the pecking order.

“The chief minister usually sticks to the methods he evolves,” a senior secretary-rank official told The Telegraph. “There is hardly any scope of speculation about the next chief secretary. In all likelihood, K.C. Saha is going to be the state’s next top bureaucrat.”

Mukerji too was the development commissioner prior to replacing RJM Pillai as chief secretary on August 2, 2009.

G.S. Kang was the state’s chief secretary when Nitish took over the reins of the state for the first time in November 2005. Nitish appointed Ashok Choudhary as development commissioner and subsequently made him the chief secretary once Kang retired.

Pillai became development commissioner when Choudhary took over the top post. He then replaced Choudhary as the chief secretary after the latter retired and was appointed chairman of the Bihar Public Service Commission.

Sources argued that the “primary point of speculation” should be who would be the next development commissioner once Saha, a 1975-batch IAS officer, becomes chief secretary. “The lobbying in fact is more intense for the post of development commissioner,” said a senior official. “The development commissioner’s post is actually the ladder to become the chief secretary.”

Ashok Sinha, a 1976-batch officer, is believed to be in contention to replace Saha as development commissioner if he is named chief secretary. Saha will have a tenure till 2013, if appointed.

The state has, at least, nine officers senior to Saha. However, S.P. Kesav, Surinder Siddhoo and Pancham Lal (all 1974 batch) are scheduled to retire ahead of Mukerji, practically forfeiting their chances to replace him.

Another 1974-batch officer, ANP Sinha, is a secretary in the Union panchayat raj ministry. He is due to retire in February 2012. But most senior officers in the state do not feel Sinha is in contention given his “short service left and also the criteria that the CM employs”.

R.K. Singh, A.K. Upadhyay, Navin Kumar, B.K. Sinha and S.P. Seth (all 1975-batch officers) are on central deputation as well.

Saha, senior bureaucrats said, is known for his impeccable personal integrity and has a “flawless” track record — he has been joint secretary at the Centre, has worked in the Election Commission and held the post of chief electoral officer of Bihar, besides other assignments. A “man of low profile but very hard working” is how his colleagues described him.

They still recall how Saha spent hours standing in the villages to get tube-wells set up when he was the district magistrate of Gaya in the eighties. “As he spent hours in the village on an empty stomach, Saha later developed ulcer for which he was operated upon,” recounted a colleague.

Saha did his MSc (Physics) and LLB from Delhi University before joining India’s elite service in 1975.

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