Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Oct 24, 2005
Columns - On the move
They never worked in ports, so what?
N. K. Kurup
Mr N. Ramachandran, who took over as chairman of Cochin Port Trust, is an IPS officer from the Assam-Meghalaya Cadre and was IGP of Special Protection Group in charge of Prime Minister's security.
Mr K. Raghuramiah, who has been appointed chairman of Paradip Port, is an officer of Indian Railways and Transport Service. He was Chief Commercial Manager (passenger service) of South Central Railway in Hyderabad.
The new chairman of Mormugao Port, Mr Praveen Agarwal is an officer of Indian Revenue Service and was Commissioner of Income-Tax before assuming the current charge. Unlike the other two, Mr Agarwal has some knowledge of port working as he was senior deputy director-general of shipping in Mumbai a few years ago.
What is significant is that the government took more than a year except for Kochi, where it took only a few months to identify suitable candidates for the top posts in these major ports. In the Paradip and Mormugao ports, the deputy chairman was holding the charge of chairman for more than a year.
If reports are anything to go by, more such appointments are on the cards. An IRS officer is likely to take over as deputy chairman of Jawaharlal Nehru Port. The chairman's post in Kandla port has been lying vacant for quite some time now.
Is there anything wrong in these appointments? This is not the first time officers from the civil services are appointed as heads of major ports. These gentlemen qualified under the criteria prescribed by the government; they have not violated any norms. They might have excelled in their own field. Then what is the issue here?
But many of the nearly 5,000 officers working in the 12 major ports have a different view.
Several of them with 25-30 years experience have to work under these bosses who have come to a port, possibly for the first time in their lives.
Worse, though there are several senior posts lying vacant at all the ports, the internal candidates are seldom promoted. The posts of secretary and chief mechanical engineer at Mumbai port have been lying vacant for months. The traffic manager at Mumbai port, working for 34 years in the port, is yet to get his official designation.
At Kandla, the posts of traffic manager and the finance manager are yet to be filled.
Here are some simple questions raised by a senior port officer: Why not promote qualified officers who have worked at a port for many years and have better knowledge about its operations? What would be the motivation for a senior official to work under a boss whose knowledge about the port is zero? These chairmen will take a few months to learn the basics and, by then, they will be transferred. The officers will have to keep the port operation going.
The sad fact is that these top appointments are cleared by the office of the Prime Minister, who himself has been calling for priority in infrastructure development. The fact that ports are a vital link in overall infrastructure development seems to be ignored.
This "we will do what we like" attitude is not restricted to ports. Take the case of the CMD's post in Shipping Corporation of India, the country's largest shipping company.
First, the senior-most officer has been sidelined for some silly reason. Then, the candidate selected for the post has been asked to take temporary charge as chairman. No one knows how long the situation will continue.
These may be trivial issues when one hears about appointment of politicians as independent directors on the board of public sector banks. But, coming back to ports, several committees have suggested creating a separate cadre for officers in the port sector. If this is not possible, internal candidates should be given priority, at least for the post of deputy chairman in all the major ports.
Ports are no longer mere facilitators of international trade. They are commercial organisations exposed to global competition. To run them efficiently, one requires the relevant experience and exposure much more than the skill and talent for handling security issues and administrative matters.
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