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May 19, 1999


Apply, apply, no reply! Despite a queue of 104 applicants, appointment to VSNL's chair remains elusive. Intense lobbying is on for the chair of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, the government's overseas telecommunications monopoly.

The post has been lying vacant since early 1998 when B K Syngal's contract expired and he was refused permission to continue in office.

Email this story to a friend. A few candidates were shortlist immediately. But bureaucratic complications stalled an appointment then.

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Now, for the second time, the Public Enterprises Selection Board has been asked to initiate the selection process.

Soon after Syngal's departure, 10 candidates were interviewed, after which the government, for reasons yet unclear, decided to scrap the panel forwarded by PESB.

Last month the PESB advertised the post again after almost a year.

What makes lobbying even more intense this time round is the fact that besides governmental and PSU candidates, private sector chieftains are in the fray.

Thus far, 104 applications have been received by the PESB.

Sources claim that the Department of Telecommunications has put its favourites on the shortlist. However, all the four candidates that DoT has backed do not appear to meet the eligibility criteria and their selection will require some relaxation of the rules.

Reportedly, in a letter addressed to the PESB secretary and dated April 15, 1999, DoT suggested the names of acting VSNL CMD Amitabh Kumar, Vinoo Goyal, Rajneesh Gupta, all from VSNL, and G D Giaha of the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited.

Strangely, the letter also mentions that Amitabh Kumar has been in the 'C' schedule since September 1995. He was promoted to 'B' schedule two weeks ago. The other three in the list joined their respective posts towards the latter half of 1998.

PESB sources have been quoted as saying that as per DPE instructions, vide 18.5, 99-GM, dated October 10, 1996, the eligibility criteria for schedule 'A' post of CMD stipulates that the candidate should have held schedule 'B' directorship for a minimum of two years and in the case of internal candidates, schedule 'B' directorship for at least one year.

A scrutiny by PESB reveals that none of the candidates listed in the government's letter meets the criteria.

Furthermore, it is learnt that PESB is being pressured to recall candidates who have already been interviewed once and rejected.

This is in violation of the procedure of the selection board. A PESB rule states that candidates who have been interviewed once for a specific post and found unsuitable cannot be considered for the same post.

But the selection process promises to get off the track this time courtesy a group of concerned MPs, who are apparently out to debar private sector executives.

When politicians got wind of the possibility of PESB calling the 90-odd candidates for interview on June 3, a number of parliamentarians dashed off letters to PESB Chairman A C Wadhawan to include the seven previously shortlist candidates too.

One such letter is said to have warned that this action of screening private sector executives 'should not, in any way, adversely affect the morale of top executives of government or PSUs who have been working with the government despite various economic and career constraints'.

The parliamentarian goes on to argue that 'since these (government) officers have limited options for career growth in government or PSUs and they look for such posts for their career advancements in the government, they must be preferred for these kind of posts'.

He further threatens that 'they (PSU executives) are to be given their due chance as they are leaders of the telecom field and leaving them out would create legal complications apart from injustice to them'.

The letters clearly contradicts the rationale, which forms the basis of the Cabinet Committee on Appointments, rejecting the three names that were forwarded by the PESB last time.

In what amounts to overturning the precedence, the CCA has returned the file, asking the PESB to widen the catchment area by including private sector executives.

Insiders believe that the letters are clearly meant to delay the selection process. They add that it is almost certain that interviews will be postponed beyond June 3.


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