Ajit Kumar Seth — a 1974 batch IAS officer of the Uttar Pradesh cadre — has been appointed the next cabinet secretary.
An official announcement said Seth has been appointed as Officer on Special Duty in the Cabinet Secretariat till 13 June. Seth — who had joined Cabinet Secretariat as a secretary in January 2009 — will take over on June 14 when KM Chandrasekhar steps down after an extraordinarily extended tenure.
Seth — who has earned a reputation for being meticulous and playing by the rules – was also the senior-most among the half-a-dozen IAS officers short-listed by the Cabinet Secretariat to be serving at the Centre.
All of them — including personnel secretary Alka Sirohi — were officers of the 1974 batch.
But there will be some awkward moments in the initial few weeks.
There are three secretaries at the Centre who are senior to him, thanks to the fixed tenure for secretaries of home, defence and external affairs.
Defence secretary Pradeep Kumar and home secretary GK Pillai are 1972 batch IAS officers; Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is an Indian Foreign Service officer from the 1973 batch.
Pillai will have to serve out as home secretary for a fortnight (his term ends in June-end) under Seth, Kumar and Rao’s term ends only in July-end. The Cabinet Secretary’s pay scale is one notch higher than a secretary’s but batch seniority is equally important within the IAS.
For a civil service which is extremely hierarchy-conscious, it is not clear how Seth would deal with the situation. A senior government official suggested Seth could begin with a courtesy call to his batch seniors, particularly within the IAS.