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First private-sector business tycoon as PESB chairperson: The march of events from January to March 2021

By MK Shukla & Rakesh Ranjan- 02 Apr 2021
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New Delhi (02.04.2021): Two things immediately preceded and followed in succession the first-ever appointment of a woman (possibly, not certain) and that, too, from the private sector as the chairperson of the Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB).

Indeed, no one in the high corridors of power, except a few in the PMO, would have guessed, till the announcement was made on April Fools' Day, the appointment of 'Padma Shri' Mallika Srinivasan as the chairperson of the all-powerful search-and-select committee (S&SC) that picks up human capital for appointment to the boards of central public sector enterprises (CPSEs).

Was the appointment of Ms. Srinivasan in line with the march of events from January to March 2021? Is it a further endorsement of PM’s conviction for ‘lateral entry? The answer is probably a big Yes.

Only a few days back, on March 27, Indianmandarins had reported that the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in its 106th report on Demands for Grants (2021-2022) of the Ministry had observed that it “is unable to understand as to how PESB is functioning without the chairperson and a member.”

Since the Parliamentary panel had directed the government to report to it within three months the reasons for keeping the key posts of chairman and a member vacant in the PESB for a long time, Indianmandarins had this question in its report: "Will the committee's observation prompt the government to fill the PESB critical manpower gaps?"

Further, the Parliamentary committee had also adversely commented on the lack of women on the board of CPSUs and directed the government to report within three months "whether the women's representation was caused by the scarcity of competent women aspirants or the glass ceiling effect...The Committee is of the considered opinion that there is a need to build an equitable workplace for women and PESB must make an endeavor in this regard.”

So, instead of wasting time and in a definite and convincing measure to show its respect to the wishes of the Parliamentary committee, PM Narendra Modi could have been inspired, being a democrat to boot, to comply with the Committee's directions on the PESB vacancies and women representation by opting for Ms. Srinivasan, who by all standards is a highly accomplished and successful business owner and executive having turned TAFE (part of the Amalgamation Group) into the third-largest producer of tractors and farm equipment in the world and second in India.

Before the displeasure expressed by the Parliamentary panel, the PM himself has been seen distressed by the attitude of civil servants and their known excessive desire and indulgences to keep the whole government under their thumb.

On February 10, 2021, participating in the motion of thanks to the President, the PM observed: "Babus will do everything? Because they became IAS (officers), they’ll run fertilizer factories, because they are IAS, they will run chemical factories... even fly planes... What is this big power we have created... What are we going to achieve by handing the reins of the nation to babus?"

Was the above observation of the PM a flash in the pan? No, it wasn't, though many thought at that time that it was the 'usual rhetoric' of a politician to beat the bureaucrats to cover up his own inefficiency.

Indianmanadarins has gleaned from open sources that the PM's exasperation with the scheme of things, particularly the pace of projects' implementation, exploded at a PRAGATI meeting held in January to work out plans for speeding up the execution of delayed projects. Needless to add that top PMO official including PM"s principal secretary PK Mishra and cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba were present at the meeting that was attended by all GoI secretaries and the state chief secretaries.

So his observation in Parliament on February 10, 2021, was a logical sequel to the frustration and anguish building up in his mind against the bureaucracy for a long time. And to balance the excessive powers of the bureaucracy, he has been seen openly veering round to the view of mobilizing the private sector (he has often described it as wealth and job creators) in his desperate attempt to revive and resurge the Indian economy that has been badly mauled by the Chinese virus and the scourge of ever-rising payment defaults in the PSBs, even if one ignores the incipient slowdown triggered by various policy failures from the beginning of NDA 2:0 regime from May 2014.

Undoubtedly, the appointment of Ms. Srinivasan is another important stepping stone in involving the private sector in nation-building. Recently, as reported by Indianmandarins on March 24, 2021, the government set up a committee to accelerate the growth of the hi-tech industry. In a clear departure from the past practices, the committee has picked up leading lights of the private sector and domain experts like  TATA Sons Chairman N. Chandrasekaran, Bharat Forge Ltd Chairman Baba Kalyani, Managing Director & CEO of Mahindra Group Pawan Goenka, Zoho Corporation CEO Sridhar Vembu, and Semiconductor Domain Expert Anshuman Tripathi to formulate the strategy.

More such measures may follow sooner than later. Because economic growth can only be engineered by the combined power of national talents.

And Ms. Srinivasan's job now would be to pick up the best national talents, and not necessarily from  PSUs and governments, to fill 135 posts (as of March 25, 2021) of directors and CMDs that have been vacant for six months to a year in a large number of critical CPSUs.

In view of the reformed government policy to let the weak CPSUs die and the strong ones thrive and get socialized shareholders' structure (leftists call the process privatization), Ms. Srinivasan's new job as a top recruiter of performance-oriented leaders of CPSUs may well be tough and challenging and yet of immense satisfaction to her undoubted talent for building teams and achieving results.

Further, another development that took place on Thursday appeared a little more than a coincidence; as the first woman Chairperson of SAIL Ms. Soma Mondal on Thursday took over as the first Chairperson of Standing Conference on Public Enterprise (SCOPE) that followed the ACC’s announcement appointing Ms Srinivasan as the Chairperson of the public-sector head-hunter (PESB).

(By MK Shukla & Rakesh Ranjan)

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A talking point in CPSEs: Two women for Board level positions in quick succession

Soma Mondal elected as SCOPE Chairperson, PK Das as Vice-Chairperson

Parliamentary Standing Committee miffed over vacancies in PESB

PESB’s dilemma: Five chairmen in five years yet awaiting the sixth one?


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