Why babus want to be private secys to ministers now

Why some officers want to stay on as PS or OSD to ministers, and how there appears to be a race among IAS, IPS, IRS and CSS officials to get appointed as PS to ministers

There are umpteen evidences with CBI that suggest Rahul Bhandari (left), a Punjab cadre officer, chose to act as railway minister Pawan K Bansalís Man Friday only for pecuniary reasons, sources indicate.

As the railway bribery scandal unfolds, an unintended consequence of the ongoing investigation would be revelation of enormous clout and power wielded by the office of personal secretary to ministers, and powerful political leaders.

The possibility of  private secretary  (PS) to union railway minister Rahul Bhandari, a 1997-batch IAS officer, singing like a canary before the CBI interrogators is expected to reveal a hideous tale of corruption in which the office of PS is a crucial link.

According to sources, Bhandari’s interrogation would invariably lead to his political master — union railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal. There are umpteen evidences with the CBI that suggest Bhandari, a Punjab cadre officer, chose to act as Bansal’s Man Friday only for pecuniary reasons, sources indicate.

Given his seniority in service, Bhandari’s present assignment was much below his stature and seniority. But the inherent nature of power and perks that go with the post of PS to the minister was the main attraction for Bhandari.

In fact, CBI sleuths are believed to be in possession of taped conversation running into hours that reveal the intricate nexus of power brokers, private secretaries and political executives.

But Bhandari’s case is not an isolated instance. Those watching power dynamics avidly can testify that the immense clout and power enjoyed by the all-powerful PS to Indira Gandhi, RK Dhawan, and  Rajiv Gandhi’s secretary V George. But neither Dhawan nor George were from government services; they were political appointees chosen for their unflinching loyalty to their bosses.

Of late, however, there appears to be a race among IAS, IPS, IRS and CSS officials to get appointed as PS to a minister and enjoy the clout without being answerable to structured bureaucratic set-up. This is precisely the reasons why certain IAS and IPS officials got stuck to a political personality throughout their career and jumped on to political bandwagon at the first opportunity.

More recently, the department of personnel and training (DoPT) made a determined but vain attempt to curb their power by restricting their time-frame. A circular issued by the DoPT (which regulates and stipulates guidelines for government services) set the upper time-limit of 10 years for an officer having association with a political executive. The note also stated that the maximum tenure for the post of PS must not exceed five years.

Barely four months after issuing this circular, however, the powerful lobby of private secretaries forced the department to rescind its own order and keep its implementation in abeyance. A fresh circular issued on April 4, which repudiates the earlier order of November 2012, says: “The appointment committee of the cabinet has decided that till completion of the next general elections these instructions may not be made in respect of officers who are at present serving in any capacity in the personal staff of ministers and are proposed to be retained beyond the laid down tenure limit.”

“There are examples galore of powerful PS/OSD to ministers who would have to be removed if the order was allowed to be implemented and it very clear that those powerful men/women are behind the latest circular,” a DoPT official said.

While the official would not reveal names of the powerful PSs/OSDs who have served for more than the ceiling laid down (overruled now) by the department for obvious reasons, there are some names in the public domain who have openly aligned themselves with ministers/chief ministers and have hardly taken any other posting.

One prominent name is Pulok Chatterjee, the principal secretary to the prime minister. The 1974-batch IAS officer of UP cadre joined Rajiv Gandhi’s office when he became the prime minister in 1985. He was associated with the Gandhi family as PS/OSD ever since. In October 2011, Chatterjee was appointed principal secretary to the prime minister.

Another name is RCP Singh, a 1984-batch IAS of UP cadre. Singh became a close confidante of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar when he was the union railway minister during NDA regime, serving as his PS. After Nitish became the Bihar chief minister in November 2005, Singh joined his team as principal secretary.

These are just two examples of otherwise many such officers who have served for more than 10 years as private secretaries/OSDs of ministers. The DoPT circular of November 2012, putting a ceiling of 10 years on officers serving on such posts, was in fact aimed at forcing them to take another posting. But that of course was not to be.

The DoPT overruled its earlier order in its April 4 circular, and maintained the status quo.