Controversy deepens over GAIL chairman slot

Vol 4, PW 21 (22 Nov 00) People & Policy

You can't accuse the Indian government of living in an ivory tower.

Word has reached the Prime Minister's Office that efforts to catapult Prashant Banerjee, an executive director at Indian Oil Corporation, into the job of Chairman at Gas Authority of India, is damaging the government's reputation. We hear that the PMO has sent word to oil minister Ram Naik of its unhappiness at Banerjee's selection as the leading candidate to replace CR Prasad as chairman of GAIL.

The PMO has quietly told Naik - verbally, not in writing - to put the selection process on hold. As a result, Naik has "not requested to see the confidential personal files" of either Banerjee or the runner-up, JK Jain, finance director at GAIL, and widely tipped as "the best qualified for the job." It is standard procedure for the oil minister to examine the "confidential personal file" of oil and gas company candidates before sending them to the cabinet secretariat and the prime minister's office for approval.

Controversy over Banerjee's candidacy centres on a report that he "lobbied" a close member of prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's family. We further understand that Banerjee's candidature sparked a clash of interest between Naik and his former oil secretary Subbaram Narayan.

Naik supports efforts by the present GAIL chairman CR Prasad to get an extension, while Narayan reportedly received a direct phone call from a well-known member of the prime minister's "inner circle" (BM) to appoint Banerjee. Prasad is scheduled to step down in January next year.