Corporate heads from the infrastructure sector, queuing up for the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) chairman's post, will be entitled to be considered for the top job if they have not had any dealings with the NHAI for at least two years earlier.
This condition is being introduced to address concerns of a "conflict of interest" impairing the decision-making by a private sector specialist appointed to head NHAI, the nodal agency under the road ministry that develops highways across India.
The issue of resolving the conflict of interest came up after road minister CP Joshi in August — in a move to bring in "specialists" from the infrastructure sector — decided to expand the existing eligibility criteria for appointing NHAI chairman to include chiefs of infrastructure companies with net worth of over Rs 2,000 crore.
The existing rules only enable government officers of the rank of additional secretary and above to apply.
The proposal was sent to the department of personnel and training (DoPT) which had to finalise the norms before applications could be invited from prospective candidates.
"DoPT had expressed reservations that having somebody from the private sector at the helm of NHAI could lead to conflict of interest. A NHAI chief has not only got huge financial powers but also has private dealings. DoPT had asked us to frame stringent norms," said a senior road ministry official.
In response, the ministry came up with new norms that after the term of NHAI chief expired, the person can't take up a new assignment which deals with NHAI for a period of two years. Government officers face a similar bar on taking a job in the private sector after quitting or retiring.
"It was felt that a two year cooling period is enough. But DoPT expressed reservations. So, a new norm is being worked out where it would be made mandatory that only such private sector honchos can apply who either themselves or through their firm have had no dealings with NHAI in the preceding two years before applying. The norms are, however, yet to be finalised," said a source.
NHAI has been without a full-time chairman since January 2011 when the then chairman Brijeshwar Singh retired. In July, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave the department three months to complete the selection process.