New Delhi: Barely two months before President Ram Nath Kovind nominated retired Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi to the Rajya Sabha on the recommendation of the Narendra Modi government, the Rashtrapati Bhavan had also nominated Gogoi’s elder brother – (Retd) Air Marshal Anjan Gogoi – as a full-time member of the North Eastern Council (NEC), the nodal agency for the economic and social development of the northeastern states under the Department of North East Region (DoNER) Ministry.
A nominated member of the NEC holds the rank of a minister of state.
A retired senior official of the NEC, who did not want to be named here “for personal reasons”, told The Wire, “There is no bar in nominating a member to the NEC from any background. However, what is generally kept in mind is that since it is a regional advisory body, the person nominated should be very much involved in policymaking around the socio-economic conditions of the north east.”
He added, “In the 40 years’ history of the NEC, Anjan Gogoi must be the first retired senior defence official to be appointed as its nominated member by the President.”
Anjan Gogoi retired on February 28, 2013, as the Air Officer, Commanding-in-Chief, South Western Command, Gandhinagar. Commissioned as an officer in 1973, though Gogoi had served in some parts of the Northeast, most of his postings had been outside of the region.
The January 24 notification of the central government said that Anjan Gogoi, a winner of the Param Vishisth Sewa Medal (2012), Ati Vishisth Sewa Medal (2005) and Vishisth Sewa Medal (2002), was appointed as an NEC member for three years from his date of joining or until any further orders.
According to local news reports, Anjan Gogoi, after taking over as a full-time member, attended consultative meetings of the NEC at its Shillong Secretariat along with another nominated member Biman Kumar Dutta on February 13 and 14. They discussed ways to encourage the central government’s Start-Up India programme in the region in addition to tailoring an exclusive tourism policy for the state.
The NEC was set up in 1972 in accordance with an Act passed by the parliament in 1971. The president nominates two members to the NEC on the recommendation of its chairman, aside from the other official members including the governors, the chief ministers and members of parliament of all the north-eastern states. The nominated members have a term of three years which can be extended by two more years by the central government.
According to a restructuring done to the body in June 2018, while the Union home minister is the chairman of the NEC, the DoNER minister, who was earlier its chairman, has become its vice-chairman.
In 2015, the president, on the advice of the then NEC chairman, DoNER minister Jitendra Singh, nominated Chandra Kanta Das and Gangmumei Kamei for three years. Das, a retired IAS officer, also served as a top office-bearer of the BJP in Assam. Kamei, an author-academician, had joined the BJP too and unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 from the Outer Manipur seat.
In May 2015, former Union tourism secretary M.P. Bezbaruah stepped down as one of the members nominated by the UPA II government, reportedly stating that he had quit after finding out that the central government was planning to appoint two new members to the NEC, including one in his place.
Speaking to The Wire on March 17, Bezbaruah said, “I had resigned because I was asked to.” He felt that the NEC “is a great concept” for the overall development of the region and added, “The idea of having nominated members to the NEC was that they can handle the day to day functions of the Council as the chairman can’t be involved on a day to day basis at the Secretariat in Shillong.”
In 2017, one of Bezbaruah’s successors Gangmumei Kamei passed away without completing his three-year term. In August 2018, Biman Kumar Dutta was appointed by the President as a nominated member on the central government’s suggestion. Dutta served as the head and dean of the School of Environment Sciences at Assam University, Silchar, prior to his nomination to the NEC in August 2018.
Das ended his term in mid-2018. Retired Air Marshal Anjan Gogoi was appointed by the President in January this year on the recommendation of the present NEC chairman Amit Shah to fill the vacant post.
Though the Centre has filled both the posts of the nominated members, the number of overall vacant posts at the NEC has been swelling over the years. As per a written reply to the parliament in November 2019, DoNER minister Jitendra Singh said that of the 202 posts at the NEC, 71 were vacant as of March 2019. The Centre has, instead, hired 26 persons on a contractual basis at the NEC secretariat in Shillong.