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Govt's selection procedure stinks

A K Bhattacharya | August 05, 2003

Last month, the finance ministry held interviews to select the chairperson of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development or Nabard.

Nothing unusual about it, except that a few hours before the interviews were actually held the government had made up its mind on the candidate it favoured to head Nabard.

The interviews were scheduled to be held in North Block in the afternoon. But in the morning, Ranjana Kumar, the highly successful chairperson and managing director of Indian Bank, met the banking secretary, N S Sisodia.

That meeting lasted for about half an hour. Soon thereafter, those in the know in North Block were reasonably certain that Ranjana Kumar would be the new chairperson of Nabard, the apex refinancing body for agriculture and rural development.

Not surprisingly, one of the four candidates called for the interviews to be held later in the day decided not to attend the interview. He was K B L Mathur, joint secretary in the banking division of the finance ministry.

Mathur did not cite any specific reason for his decision. But it would be fair to assume that being in the ministry has its advantages. And he must have known that the interviews to be held in the afternoon would be a charade and he might as well opt out of the show.

The other three candidates were not so lucky. S K Hazra, a senior officer in the department of agriculture and cooperation, K Balasubramaniam, deputy managing director of Small Industries Development Bank, and Sudhir Kumar, an IAS officer who used to be the managing director of the Small Agri Farmers' Consortium, came for the interviews.

The panel of experts who interviewed them included K J Udeshi, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India, P Kotaiah, former chairman of Nabard, finance secretary, D C Gupta, and banking secretary N S Sisodia.

It was only after the interviews were over and the candidates began finding about their chances that they learnt that the selection had already been made. And the choice fell not on any one of those who came for the interviews that afternoon.

What obviously irked them was that if indeed the government had already made up its mind on selecting Ranjana Kumar to be the Nabard chairperson, there was no need to maintain the facade of holding the interviews. A better alternative, of course, would have been to persuade Kumar also to come for the interviews along with the other candidates.

Perhaps her age (57 years) could have been a disadvantage, as the advertisement for the job had stated that the preferred age for candidates was between 50 and 55 years. But then, the government can always make exceptions to the rule. And nobody can quarrel with the government's final choice, although that does not mean that the procedures for selecting the Nabard head should not be followed correctly and fairly.

The government could have even rejected the panel of candidates called for the interview, as indeed was suggested by Gupta's predecessor. It was then considered that the candidates who had applied for the job were not good enough and hence the panel should be scrapped. But that view did not find favour with the government and the finance ministry went ahead with the interviews.

Problems such as this are not uncommon. The government's procedures for selecting senior positions in public sector bodies are often flouted. Obviously, it is not enough to select the right person to head an organisation. It is equally important that the right procedures for selection are followed in a fair and transparent manner.

Why talk only about the selection of chief executives of public sector organisations? The same problems arise in the selection of India's nominees to multilateral funding bodies.

For instance, the post of executive director on the board of the International Monetary Fund is vacant at present and intense lobbying for this Washington-based job is going on. Even a proposal to bar senior secretaries from applying for this job is doing the rounds. The latest idea is to consider only joint secretary-level officers for this job.

There is a clear need for setting up a proper recruitment system for all key positions in state-owned organisations and nominees to multilateral funding agencies.

Even if the central ministries involved do hold interviews for the jobs in public sector organisations, the procedures are often not followed, just like in the case of selecting the Nabard head. And for selecting the nominees to multilateral bodies, interviews are not even held.

The best recruitment system would be to look for a mechanism in which the bureaucrats have no role to play. Once upon a time, the Union Public Service Commission played this role quite effectively.

It is perhaps time the UPSC was given more powers, freed from the control and influence of bureaucrats and all central ministries compelled to use its services to select heads of public sector organisations or even nominees to multilateral organisations.

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