|Ajit Kumar Seth
New Delhi, June 2: The Centre today approved a six-month extension for cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth, less than a fortnight before the government’s top bureaucrat was to retire, apparently to ensure continuity and help the new regime settle down.
Sources, however, said there could be deeper reasons at play behind the extension, which has narrowed down the choice of those who could succeed Seth, an Uttar Pradesh-cadre officer who was due to retire on June 13.
At least two of the four senior-most officers who would have been eligible to be picked will retire in the next six months, the sources said, while one of those who would remain in contention is petroleum secretary Saurabh Chandra.
Like Seth, Chandra, a 1978-batch officer, is from the Uttar Pradesh cadre.
The government is also in the process of appointing at least two dozen officers for the Prime Minister’s Office. Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi would meet senior officers in the department of personnel and training (DoPT) tomorrow to finalise the names.
One of the key appointments is likely to be that of Bharat Lal, who is among 16 Indian Forest Service officers empanelled for the rank of joint secretary, the DoPT sources said. Lal, a Gujarat-cadre officer, is now posted at Gujarat Bhavan.
Lal also has roots in Uttar Pradesh, a state that has given the BJP 71 MPs and accounts for eight ministers, the highest in Narendra Modi’s council.
That Uttar Pradesh is on the BJP’s radar was evident after the Prime Minister decided to retain Varanasi, one of the two seats he had contested from and won, the other being Vadodara in his home state Gujarat.
“There are going to be sweeping changes and a whole chart is being prepared of officers to re-staff the Prime Minister’s Office,” said a source.
Asked about several forest service officers being picked as joint secretaries, a senior officer said officers of all services were routinely empanelled as joint secretaries at the Centre.
Several other appointments could follow over the next few days. Some of the key posts that are vacant include those of the secretary (security) in the cabinet secretariat, special secretary (internal security) and the director-general of the Sashastra Seema Bal.
The Congress has described the decision to scrap the groups of ministers (GoMs) as “symptomatic of (an) autocratic regime”.
Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala recalled that it was the earlier NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee that had set up such groups.
Modi had on Saturday abolished all nine empowered groups of ministers (EGoMs) and 21 GoMs in the name of “expediting decision-making and greater accountability”.
Surjewala said Vajpayee had formed the GoMs to utilise a “wider collective wisdom of more than one person” to resolve complex problems, critical legal issues and inter-department issues. “All GoMs and EGoMs have been dismantled in the garb of asking ministers to decide the issues on their own and then giving all rights to the PMO in key policy decisions.”
In an apparent dig at the Prime Minister, Surjewala said “no one person can be the repository of all wisdom” in the complex polity of India.