After remaining without a full time head for over a year, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the nodal agency which develops highways across the country, seems to be finally inching closer to have a chairman.
On Wednesday, a selection panel headed by cabinet secretary AK Seth shortlisted three candidates – two retired and one serving bureaucrat -- from a list of 71 for the NHAI chief’s post.
Those shortlisted include RC Mishra, Central Provident Fund Commissioner, RP Singh who retired last year as secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce & Industry and AV Sinha, who retired as Director General (Roads), Ministry of Road Transport & Highways.
The onus is now on road minister CP Joshi to choose one of them as NHAI chairman. If Joshi rejects the selection panel’s recommendation, the process to hunt for a new NHAI chief will start all over again.
With the selection panel recommending three names, the idea floated by Joshi to have CEO’s of infrastructure firms or technocrat from the private sector to head the NHAI has also been nixed by the Cabinet Secretariat.
The ministry had for the first time decided to expand the eligibility criteria for selecting the NHAI chief to allow CEOs of infrastructure firms and heads of PSUs to apply. The existing rules only allow government officers of the rank of additional secretary and above to apply.
In a bid to invite application from the private sector, the road ministry had infact spent approximately Rs five lakh to place advertisement for the NHAI chief’s post in the Economist magazine.
The existing rules allow only IAS officers of the rank of secretary to apply for the NHAI chairman’s post.
However, the response from the private sector was lukewarm. Of the 71 applicants, only five were from the private sector. This included BSS Raju, vice president, Lanco Infratech and K Ramalingan, chairman, Maytas, Hyderabad.
The maximum application was received from serving bureaucrats and senior PSU officials including VP Baligar, chief managing director, HUDCO, Shakeel Ahmed, CMD, Hindustan Copper Limited, L Radhakrishanan, chairman, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, CS Prasad, director general, CPWD among others. Over 15 retired bureaucrats had also applied for the post.
NHAI has been without a full time chairman since January 2011 when the then chairman Brijeshwar Singh retired. After that, former transport secretary RS Gujral was given the additional charge. After Gujral took over as finance secretary last year, the present incumbent AK Upadhyaya has been given the additional charge. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while reviewing the performance of the road sector in July last year given a deadline of three months to appoint NHAI chairman.