Succession Planning for Top Positions in Government Should Be High Priority – But Isn't

Key government and tribunal positions have been vacant for large amounts of time now. It is not that competent administrative officers and judges are not available for appointment.

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Vacant positions in the top management of Public Sector Enterprises – where selection of candidates is done by the Public Enterprises Selection Board – has been a common feature, and one we explored in a previous article.

In this article we examine the situation of a few top positions in the government for which selections have to be made by the government itself. These posts are not in the purview of the Union Public Service Commission and the appointments are to be made by the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet (ACC).

We start with one of India’s largest government departments, Indian Railways, which has the third largest network in the world, serving about 68,000 kilometres.

Its capital expenditure has increased from about Rs 45,980 crores during 2009-2014 to Rs 155,181 crores in 2020-2021. In 2021-22, it is budgeted to further increase to Rs 215,058 crores. The National Rail Plan projects substantial expansion in the capacity of its network by 2030 so that it can cater to the growth up to 2050. The share in freight is projected to increase from about 27% to 45%. Expansion of rail traffic and reduction of road transportation will also help in cutting emission levels. 

Several top positions in the Indian Railways are however vacant.

The chairperson of the Railway Board retired in May 2022 and has been re-employed for six months. Regular appointments have not been made to the posts of member (infrastructure), member (traction and rolling stock) and member (finance). Ten posts of general managers in various zones of Railways are also awaiting regular appointment.

Also read: The Wire Impact: Railways Divest Key PSU Head Named in CBI FIR With ‘Immediate Effect’

The posts of general managers in the Railways were earlier filled through promotions but now the Railways have invited applications, though only from serving officers of the Railways. The posts of director general of safety, director general of human resources and director general of the National Academy of Indian Railways are also vacant.

Without top management in place, should we expect efficient implementation of investments planned in the Railways?

One of the most important institutions when it comes to rural economy of India is the National Dairy and Development Board (NDDB). It promotes and finances dairy cooperatives across India. The livestock sector has been growing at a compound annual growth rate or CAGR of 7.93% (at constant price) from 2014-2015 to 2020-2022. NDDB’s mandate is not limited to the milk sector alone. It can support producer-owned organisations in other sectors of agriculture also, like fruits and vegetables. NDDB supports projects of animal breeding, animal health and nutrition, dairy infrastructure and quality mark for milk and cattle feed. NDDB is the friend, philosopher and guide of milk cooperatives.

NDDB is without a regular chairperson since December 2020 and an executive director is officiating as managing director and chairperson. For a short period of a few months, the joint secretary in the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying was also given the charge of the post of chairperson of the NDDB.

For Indian agriculture and rural development, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) is an important institution. It provides and regulates credit to banks for promotion and development of agriculture, small scale industries, cottage and village industries, handicrafts and other rural crafts and other allied economic activities. For several months, the post of NABARD’s chairperson has been vacant. 

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is India’s food regulator. It lays down the science-based standards for food articles. The manufacture, storage, distribution, domestic sale and import of food items are all regulated by FSSAI so that food items are safe. The FSSAI ecosystem is very powerful and it can order the recall of any food item by manufacturers – as we saw in the case of Nestlé’s instant noodles in 2015.

Also read: What Explains the Vacancies in the Top Posts of Indian PSEs?

FSSAI is without a regular chairperson since December 2021. The chief executive officer has also been recently transferred and regular posting is yet to be done.

It is not only the top positions in the executive arm of the government which are lying vacant.

The Law Commission of India advises the government on legal reforms. In the past, it was headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court. The post of chairperson of the Law Commission has been vacant since September 2018. On a reference from the government on Uniform Civil Code, the Law Commission, then headed by Justice B.S. Chauhan submitted a report in August 2018. It was titled ‘Reform of Family Law.’ The report said that Common Civil Code is neither necessary nor desirable. Instead, the Commission recommended codification of personal laws so that the constitutional idea of equity is guaranteed to all of India’s citizens.

As a result of the anti-corruption movement during the United Progressive Alliance’s second sting, the government enacted the The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act in 2013. A retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose was appointed the first chairperson of the Lokpal in March 2019. He completed his term in May 2022 and demitted office. Since then, a regular chairperson of the Lokpal has not been appointed. Justice Pradip Kumar Mohanty, who is a judicial member is acting as the chairperson of the body.

Several posts of judicial and administrative members in the Central Administrative Tribunals are also vacant. In an unprecedented order, the Supreme Court has extended until further orders – till regular appointments are made – the terms of judicial member and the administrative member in the Kolkata bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal.

It is not that competent administrative officers and judges are not available for appointment. In fact, for every vacancy advertised by the government for top positions in the government and in tribunals, a number of applications are received from both public and private sectors. So, it is not really difficult to find suitable candidates. Quite possibly, the process of final selection for such coveted positions has become somewhat dilatory, which needs to be urgently revisited so as to ensure that by the time the top posts fall vacant, the new appointment is already finalised.

Succession planning in the government is a serious business and it needs to be given the importance it deserves.

Siraj Hussain was Union agriculture secretary. He is a co-promoter of Arcus Policy Research. Jugal Mohapatra retired as Union rural development secretary. 

A version of article was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.