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Post-retirement jobs: Do some govt officers get a better deal than others?

Illustration: Binay Sinha
The record of post-retirement assignments grabbed by top government officers in the past few years clearly shows those who have retired from 2016 onwards have landed themselves a far better deal than cohorts from a few years earlier. A sample list of IAS officers, drawn up for each year since 2013, shows those who have fared the worst are those whose farewell came pretty soon after the NDA government was sworn in or had just about a year or so to go in the new regime. 

But even among them, those who were seen as close to the present government have been rewarded, sometimes after a gap of even two years. D J Pandian retired as chief secretary in the Gujarat government in November 2014, but was picked up for the number two position in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (First Vice-President and Chief Investment Officer) in 2016. Similarly, Devender Kumar Sikri, again from the Gujarat cadre, became chairman of the Competition Commission of India in 2016, though he had retired in 2013. This has hardly happened in the earlier UPA government where postings to organisations after retirement broadly followed a chronological pattern. 

IAS officers in the Central Government, especially those who have served in high profile departments, often get rewarded with posts in various organisations once they reach retirement age. It is a practice that has been around for a long time. It is also something that India shares with several democracies and has been seen as a fairly common icing to top up a career in the uppermost rungs of the civil service. 

We decided to do a test check on whether the postings of these officers had been affected by a change in the political executive. We have concentrated on secretary-level officers who were posted in key economic ministries such as finance, commerce and industry, power, telecom and others, like home and defence before their retirement in the comparable years. The list is also populated with secretaries who have had long stints in these ministries, even if they retired from some others. Within the Government of India, all ministries are considered equal in status, but the jockeying among officers to reach a few of these ministries makes it clear which among them they perceive as important. 

Significantly, the pool of officers selected to post-retirement assignments has  widened under the NDA government to include those posted in states too. While Gujarat has been the clear winner, officers from other states are also getting their feet in. S C Khuntia, who has taken over as chairman of Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority, was chief secretary in the Karnataka government. J Satyanarayana, earlier adviser to the Andhra Pradesh government since 2014, was brought in as chairman of the high-profile UIDAI in 2016. 

In the batch of 2013, the last full year under the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, some outgoing officers did get some good offers. S K Sharma moved from secretary, defence, to become the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Sindhushree Khullar was appointed as secretary, Planning Commission and A P Singh, moved from CBI director’s post to become member, UPSC. But quite a few others were not as lucky, including R S Gujral, who did not get a plum posting despite having been finance secretary. While G C Chaturvedi did get in as member of a regulatory body -- Warehousing Development and Regulatory Authority -- and moved on to become chairman later, he had to wait for a year for the appointment. He has now been picked by the finance ministry to become chairman of ICICI Bank. Rentala Chandrasekhar was appointed as chairman of NTRO. However the organisation would come into prominence only after the next government under Narendra Modi came to power. By then, Chandrasekhar had moved on to become President of Nasscom, an industry body. 

It was industry that most those who retired in 2014 made a beeline for. One exception was finance secretary Sumit Bose, whose retirement in March 2014 was almost in sync with the change of power in New Delhi. He became a member of the Expenditure Management Commission under the NDA and has been the go-to person for government-appointed committees thereafter. J Satyanarayana, Secretary, Ministry of Information Technology, went as adviser with cabinet rank to Andhra Pradesh, just as Narsing Rao went to the Telangana government as principal secretary (cabinet rank). But Zohra Chatterjee, secretary, textiles and interim chairman of Coal India in a turbulent phase, M F Farooqui, telecom secretary, and Ravi Mathur, secretary, disinvestment did not get any central government postings. Mathur came the closest, as he became an independent director in Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India. 

The worst-hit were their compatriots who retired in 2015, and who were manning key economic departments as the NDA government entered office in 2014. Their perceived bias towards the UPA meant that none managed to get any post-retirement sinecure. The finance ministry team of Arvind Mayaram (though he retired in early 2016), Rajiv Takru and G S Sandhu were moved out before their retirement to other ministries and commissions and did not get anything pleasant when they left office. The list includes Naved Masood too.

Keshav Desiraju, who was suddenly moved out of the health ministry in 2013 when Ghulam Nabi Azad was the minister, retired from consumer affairs in 2015. He was made an advisor by health minister J P Nadda in the NDA government for some time. There were two exceptions. The first was Rajiv Mehrishi, who was made home secretary for two years, on the evening he retired as finance secretary. The second was his predecessor, L C Goyal, who was made chairman-ITPO with immediate effect. Goyal had taken voluntary retirement as home secretary.

For others, the picture changes favourably from the next year, i.e. 2016. Few officers from key ministries have had to sit out. There is a pattern here, it seems. The officers do not know, or at least do not make public where they were headed after retirement. The only exception was again Mehrishi, who wen on to become CAG within weeks of retirinng as home secretary. 

For others, the orders come out with a lag of few months. In the case of Sunil Arora, it took more than year after he retired as secretary I&B. There is a short waiting-list from 2017 that includes Rita Teotia, Tapan Ray and Anjuli Chib Duggal. The vacancies being considered for them reportedly include chairmanship of Competition Commission of India and member, WIPO. It would be interesting to watch whether the batch of 2018, which includes Anil Swarup and Ajay Mittal, both from the HRD ministries, and slated to retire in November, and Hasmukh Adhia are better placed than the batch of 2014.


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