Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointed senior IAS officer Rajiv Mehrishi as Union home secretary on Monday, replacing incumbent LC Goyal who was reportedly told to quit barely seven months into his stint, triggering allegations of authoritarianism from the Opposition.
The 1978-batch Rajasthan cadre officer’s appointment as home secretary came hours before he was to retire as finance secretary. As home secretary, Mehrishi – who assumed charge soon after – would have a two-year term and is the third officer this year to occupy the key position.
By evening, Goyal too had been rehabilitated as the chairman of the India Trade Promotion Organisation -- the government's nodal trade promotion agency -- with sources saying he was likely to get a two-year term.
Goyal was brought in February after his predecessor, Anil Goswami, was unceremoniously shown the door for allegedly trying to protect politician Matang Sinh from arrest. The 1979-batch Kerala cadre IAS officer was appointed for a two-year term that would have let him continue till February 2017.
As home secretary, Goyal had already sensed he did not enjoy the government’s confidence when he was kept out of the loop on an agreement with the NSCN-(I-M) earlier this month. He subsequently lodged a protest with home minister Rajnath Singh.
But he was sounded out about the change only last week.
Government sources told HT that the former home secretary was initially taken aback when informed the prime minister’s office was mulling a change but when he received a second call the next day from another senior PMO functionary, Goyal figured the government had already made up its mind and agreed to quit.
In a statement announcing Mehrishi’s appointment, the PMO said Modi decided to accept his request to step down with immediate effect and waived his notice period. The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) order – which has Rajnath Singh as a member – came later. Sources close to Singh, however, insisted he was on board.
Responding to news of his rehabilitation, Goyal said, “I have taken each and every assignment given to me very seriously, and put my heart into every assignment. And I will continue to do so”. Earlier in the day, he had called the decision to quit his own and denied he was upset.
Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma saw the move as a reflection of the PM’s "authoritarian style of functioning and arbitrary decision-making”.
“It is not a Presidential form of governance," Sharma said, insisting the PM had started the policy where his ministers didn’t know about the secretaries their departments were going to have.
"We can only take note of the unexpressed agony of the ministers who come to know about their secretaries through TV and newspapers only", he said.
Late in the evening, the ACC cleared another bureaucratic reshuffle, appointing 15 additional secretary-rank officers and 20 joint secretary-level officers. As part of this exercise, a Gujarat cadre IPS officer Praveen Sinha was appointed as additional secretary to the Central Vigilance Commission.
Former home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's aide and joint secretary at the women and child development ministry, IS Chahal, was stripped of his charge.
Mehrishi – who was preparing for his retirement – was Rajasthan’s chief secretary when he was brought to the Capital as Union finance secretary last year. He was widely speculated to be in the running for the cabinet secretary’s job but was too junior in the pecking order. Union power secretary Pradeep K Sinha pipped him to the post.