EXCLUSIVE: Who is responsible for the rot in SCOPE?

New Delhi: The selection process followed by the Standing Conference of Public Enterprises (SCOPE) for the post of Director-General (DG) makes for an interesting study. It would have you believe that there’s only one best man that the organisation cannot seem to do without — the incumbent DG. How else would the selection panel end up picking him from a pool of candidates year after year for the post of Director-General for the last 10 years when the tenure is limited to five years?

In a letter dated November 14, 2018, accessed exclusively by PSU Watch, the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises had come down heavily on SCOPE over the “irregular continuation of the present DG” beyond the stipulated tenure and had also threatened to disassociate itself from SCOPE if the present DG was allowed to continue.

The ministry's action is in line with the crackdown initiated by the Modi government against corruption.

However, despite the rebuke handed down by its administrative ministry, SCOPE has failed to remove the official from the post and appoint a new person in his stead.

When did the present DG assume charge?

The incumbent DG of SCOPE took charge of the post on August 1, 2009. However, the Executive Board of SCOPE, which is responsible for approving appointments of officers/employees and for laying down the rules of business, service conditions, pay scales, etc, has kept on granting an extension to the incumbent from 2009 till date.

The never-ending cycle of extensions

“The DG has not just been the permanent occupant of the post for the last 10 years, but he has been on the company’s payroll, has been getting increments and all the allowances that come with the post for all these years,” a source privy to the information said.

“The post of DG at SCOPE is a post-retirement position. The tenure is otherwise fixed at five years. However, a DG can continue to serve the post after the expiry of the tenure only after their name has been approved by the board,” the source said.

Alt= A copy of the letter sent by the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises to SCOPE.

Ministry and DPE made several attempts to get SCOPE to act

Miffed by SCOPE’s inability to take action on the matter, the Ministry not only pulled up the organisation for allowing the incumbent DG to continue but also warned that DPE would no longer be associated with SCOPE’s “irregular” activities unless it took an action.

In a strongly-worded letter, dated November 14, 2018, the ministry said, “The Department of Legal Affairs have opined that extending the present DG to continue till the attainment age of 70 years is arbitrary and against the standard practice and procedure… DPE has repeatedly written to SCOPE with the approval of Hon’ble Minister that the continuation of DG SCOPE beyond 31.10.2017 is not legally tenable and therefore, he should be asked to demit office. However, no action has been taken and the incumbent has been allowed to continue irregularly.”

Alt= A copy of the letter sent by the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises to SCOPE.

“After careful consideration of the issue, it has been decided with the approval of competent authority that DPE cannot remain associated with irregular activities/decisions of SCOPE, particularly in the matter of the continuation of the present DG… and therefore DPE has decided to disassociate itself from the Executive Board and General Council meeting or any other activity of SCOPE with immediate effect and till such corrective steps are taken by SCOPE in this regard,” it added.

According to sources, DPE officials have since not been attending the board meetings and the general council meetings in order to register a protest.

Why is this an issue?

SCOPE is an apex body that represents the entire public sector in India. Its job is to act as an interface between the PSU sector and the government and facilitate dialogue between the two. “If you allow somebody to continue after retirement, tenure after tenure, it gradually influences the overall system, leads to stagnation and also leads to nepotism, favouritism and other forms of corruption. This can be avoided only when the system is clean, allows succession planning and timely departure of every person employed,” the source said. “The PSU sector is vast and cuts across segments of aviation, energy, real estate, infrastructure etc. Allowing people from various fields to come in and take over SCOPE’s top position ensures that a different kind of expertise is brought to the table and that benefits the organisation,” he added.

Global agencies rank a country on the basis of how well they are able to show integrity in their systems and processes. These rankings ultimately lead to the rise or fall of foreign investments. Integrity, too, has similarly become a criterion for the accreditation of an organisation. And therefore, it assumes importance when it comes to improving the ranking of a country on global metric systems.