50-year-old RK Chandolia, a 1984 batch Indian Economic Service officer, is one of many officers of elite IAS and allied services of Indian administration who have served as private secretaries to ministers. Nothing unusual about it considering ministers always handpick one of their trusted officers as private secretaries. But after Chandolia’s boss, A Raja was forced to resign as telecommunications minister in the wake of 2G spectrum scam, fingers are now pointed at Chandolia’s alleged role in the telecom saga which had reportedly led to the loss of Rs 1.76 lac crore to the exchequer, according to Indian auditor, CAG.
Even after he was promoted by Raja as an economic adviser in the department of telecommunications, he reportedly played a key role in appointments in the state-owned firms like Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL). Also, Chandolia was reporting to the DoT secretary which many say is a clear proof of jumping the official structure. The Indian economic service officer is now shifted to finance ministry, and it remains to be seen whether he is proved innocent or guilty.
But the episode is a big lesson to hundreds other private secretaries who are with ministers in Centre and the states as they could be vulnerable if their minister bosses are trapped in any scam. The challenge is how to remain insulated from the minister’s wrongdoings even when remaining a part of his inner coterie. For most bright officers who have a long way to go in the administrative ladder, making money as a private secretary is the least of the priority. Why then officers prefer to become a minister’s private secretary? While several IFS officers join as private secretaries in search of home postings, the allied services officers join the bandwagon mainly to break the monotony.
But for most, it’s a window to develop political clout which is indispensable as one goes up. At times, it turns out to be a risky proposition too if one becomes too close to a senior minister of a political party because one can’t rule out the Opposition party grabbing the power later.
Even the government has realized the tendency of a few officers to remain serial private secretaries for years. The DoPT has recently imposed a 10-year cap for an officer to become private secretary (PS) or Officers in Special Duty (OSD), but spared the PMO from the order.
Who is V Vidyavathi of PMO?When 11-page affidavit from the PMO was submitted in Supreme Court in connection with 2G spectrum issue, it was V Vidyavathi who signed the much talked about legal document. For the record, Vidyavathi is a 1991 batch Karnataka cadre IAS who has been in the PMO first as deputy secretary and now as director. She joined PMO in February 2004, and is now on an extension.