the tenure of its chairman RP Singh, a former IAS of 1976 batch ended last month. As a stop-gap arrangement, Vijay Chhibber, 1978 batch Manipur-Tripura cadre IAS and secretary of the ministry of road transport and highways, was given additional charge of the post of chairman, NHAI for three months or until further order, according to an order dated June 5, 2015. In other words, the ministry (or the minister?) can now take all key decisions regarding NHAI, something which could not be possible when an independent-minded person like RP Singh was at the helms. According to media reports, Singh wrote letters to the ministry complaining about bypassing him while taking certain decisions.
The relations between NHAI and the ministry have not been cordial, and the very fact that over 30 MPs of the BJP and its allies from Bihar moved a privilege notice in Lok Sabha against NHAI member Sudhir Kumar in April (alleging that the senior bureaucrat “insulted” the law makers over a discussion on the condition of Bihar’s road projects) demonstrates that relation. It’s however not the first time that NHAI’s top post remains vacant. During the UPA-II, the post lied vacant for almost two years, allowing the road transport and highways ministry controlling its affairs.
In case of the CVC selection, the judiciary roadblocks could be cited as a reason for the delay in appointment, but by and large, the present NDA government could have averted the situation of key government agencies remaining headless for months. Vijai Sharma, a 1974 batch IAS and incidentally a batch-mate of outgoing cabinet secretary Ajit K Seth, for example, has been the senior-most information commissioner in Central Information Commissioner and could have been appointed as chief information commissioner months ago. It was widely speculated in the corridors that the PM might not be keen to handpick Sharma, the husband of former secretary to Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council Rita Sharma, as the head of the RTI watchdog.
In fact, CIC was left headless, and ultimately Sharma’s candidature was recommended by a PM-headed panel. The question that remained unanswered, however, is why there was such a delay in appointing the CIC when the senior-most person was selected for the job, as it was done earlier. Similarly, why did the government take four months to name Avinash Chander’s successor in DRDO. Did DRDO chief become so powerful that the post had to be hived off: Now S Christopher is the director general and G Satheesh Reddy is the scientific advisor to defence minister. Earlier, DRDO DG was also made scientific adviser to defence minister.
Coming back to NHAI, it’s unclear as why RP Singh’s successor could be not found even though it was known that Singh’s tenure would end in May. According to reports, the process of finding Singh’s successor began as early as January, and the last date of application was February 28, 2015. And those who applied, according to a Time of India report dated March 10, 2015, included former Gujarat cadre IAS Subhash Ishvarbhai Patel, Ajoy Mehta of Maharashtra cadre, union information and broadcasting secretary Bimal Julka, culture secretary Ravinder Singh, chairman of the National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention and Gujarat cadre IAS JS Sandhu, former secretaries Vishwapati Trivedi, Sudhir Krishna, Arun Kumar Jain, Pankaj Jain, PK Deb, Bharat Bhushan, present member (PPP) at NHAI Sudhir Kumar and former member (administration) Narender Kumar, present CEO of Suzlon Group and former IAS Rohit Modi, just to name a few.