Plan panel for secys’ tenure to keep policies in place

The Planning Commission wants secretaries in key ministries of coal, power and petroleum to be appointed for at least three years so that they can deliver.

The panel wants secretary-level appointments in these key economic ministries to be made with caution. Officials said the commission is not happy with the performances of coal, petroleum and power and wants their secretaries to have a fixed tenure to ensure continuity of policies.

Concerned over slow growth in these crucial sectors, the commission members have urged the chairman — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — to exercise utmost care in selecting secretaries of these ministries. The performances of various sectors was discussed threadbare during a recent meeting between the Planning Commission and the Prime Minister. Officials said the commission was particularly unhappy with the performance of ministry of petroleum and natural gas in the light of the rising subsidies.
The under-recoveries of oil companies in the current financial year is estimated to top Rs 1,40,000 crore. So far the government has provided Rs 50,000 crore as fuel subsidy in 2011-2012. Officials said the commission was of the view that by the time a senior government officials takes charge as secretary, he has little time left, which in many cases is counterproductive from a policy point of view.

Coal, power and petroleum ministries not only oversee major government companies but are also the crucial sectors when it comes to planning growth. Currently, decisions in the coal sector are taken at the Prime Minister’s Office by Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Pulok Chaterjee.

With a shortage in coal production threatening derailment of power generation targets, the PMO recently intervened with a directive asking Coal India Ltd to meet at least 80 per cent of the committed fuel quantities of power projects.

In the petroleum sector, a secretary-level change happened in the midst of a crucial decision being taken on the approval of the Cairn-Vedanta deal. Besides the issue of fuel prices, which the ministry of petroleum and natural gas is always trying to handle, the ministry is dealing with the fall in natural gas production from Reliance Industries Ltd’s KG-D6 field.

A particular case has been that of former petroleum secretary S Sundareshan, who was shifted out of the ministry in May last year after spending a little over one year in the post. The change happened after Jaipal Reddy took charge as minister last year.

Similar changes also hit policy continuity in coal and power ministries.

Coal Secretary Alok Perti will be retiring in May 2012 after being at the helm for less than a year.
Source: BS

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