Raghuram Rajan style appointments the new trend in bureaucracy

PM Modi’s administration is now appointing top bureaucrats as OSDs in government departments a few weeks prior to naming them as secretaries


The Modi government wants its top bureaucrats to get used to the functioning of a ministry before taking over its reins, said a senior bureaucrat. Photo: Bloomberg
The Modi government wants its top bureaucrats to get used to the functioning of a ministry before taking over its reins, said a senior bureaucrat. Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: What perhaps started with Raghuram Rajan being named as an officer on special duty (OSD) at the Reserve Bank of India in 2013 before taking over as the governor of the central bank is now becoming the norm at least for appointments to top government posts.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration is now appointing top bureaucrats as OSDs in government departments a few weeks prior to naming them as secretaries, mimicking how succession planning done in the private sector.

In October, M. Sathiyavathy became the new labour and employment secretary of the government of India after the retirement of Shankar Aggarwal. Sathiyavathy’s elevation came four weeks after she was named as an OSD in the labour ministry.

On Wednesday, the appointments committee of the cabinet named five top bureaucrats as OSDs in different departments. They will eventually become secretaries in their respective departments.

Also read: Cabinet reshuffles top-level bureaucrats

Bharti S. Sihag, special secretary and financial adviser at the steel ministry, was named as an OSD in the department of fertilizer. “The officer will take over as secretary, department of fertilizer in the ministry of chemicals and fertilizer on the superannuation of the incumbent Shri Vijay Shankar Pandey (a 1979 batch IAS officer of the Uttar Pradesh cadre),” the cabinet circular said.

Similarly Kewal Kumar Sharma, an IAS officer of the 1983 batch, was made an OSD in the department of higher education and will take over the position of secretary of higher education in about three months.

Ameising Luikham, secretary department of public enterprises, has been named as an OSD in the ministry of minority affairs and will take over as its secretary after incumbent Rakesh Garg retires on 30 November. Anup Kumar Srivastav, currently serving as secretary official languages in the home ministry, was appointed as an OSD in the ministry of tribal affairs and will take over the post of secretary after the incumbent retires in a couple of months.

Similarly, K.P. Krishnan, special secretary in the department of land resources in the ministry of rural development will take over as secretary skills and entrepreneurship after the present skills secretary Rohit Nandan retires in January 2017. Till that time, Krishnan will function as an OSD in the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship.

The position of OSD is not new in a government set up but they were largely attached to a minister and not to a department. Now OSDs are being appointed for a ministry or department.

The difference is: while the OSD attached to a minister has little policy-making power, the ones with the departments contribute to policy decisions.

In August 2013, the government appointed Raghuram Rajan, then chief economic adviser, ministry of finance, as an OSD in RBI for a period of three weeks prior to his taking over as Governor. Rajan, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, left RBI after completing his three-years tenure.

“PM Modi’s government wants its top bureaucrats to get used to the functioning of a ministry before taking over its reins. See, these days PM himself is interacting with all secretaries more than what was done during previous government,” said a senior bureaucrat who declined to be named. “You may see this trend more often in the coming days.”

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