RS Pandey and RP Watal will stay until after elections

Vol 12, PW 21 (26 Mar 09) People & Policy

Imminent national elections from April 16 to May 13 have put in doubt plans by oil secretary RS Pandey for a transfer to the more prestigious home secretary position at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

For this Pandey can blame the Model Code of Conduct introduced by the Election Commission when it announced the full election schedule. Under the Code, state and central governments are barred from taking policy decisions that can be construed as an attempt to influence voters.

Aside from this, Pandey’s plans to shift to the home ministry have received another setback. Madhukar Gupta, who holds the post, was due to step down on March 31 after his two-year run but rumour has it Gupta has been told to oversee the smooth running of the election and given an extension.

Not clear is whether this is for three months or six. Worse, if Congress loses the election, Pandey’s ambition to secure the home secretary position might be scuppered for good.

Like all senior bureaucrats, Pandey, who joined the oil ministry on August 1 last year, will have to lobby with new political masters if he wants a coveted post. Another bureaucrat with an equally uncertain future is RP Watal, secretary to the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board, headed by Labanyendu Mansingh.

Watal joined the IAS in 1978 but unlike others who joined that year he should have been promoted to additional secretary last November, enabling him to go higher. But Watal had a fiery relationship with Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former oil minister, who later became sports minister.

Word has it Aiyar sabotaged Watal’s promotion to additional secretary with critical remarks about his performance at the Sports Authority of India, where he worked before joining the regulator’s office. Watal was hoping a March 7 meeting to review disappointed joint secretary files that didn’t make it to additional secretary would save him - but the meeting didn’t happen.

Like Pandey, Watal must now wait until after elections to see what happens.