Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Former TRAI chief named Principal Secy to PM, but there’s a little legal hitch

Former chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Nripendra Misra may have already taken charge as Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, but his appointment to the topmost position in the Prime Minister’s Office seems to be in violation of the rulebook.

This is because Section 5(8) of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, states that the “chairperson or any other member ceasing to hold office as such, shall (a) be ineligible for further employment under the Central Government or any State Government; or (b) not accept any commercial employment, for a period of two years from the date he ceases to hold such office”.

Significantly, in August 2006, Misra, as TRAI chairperson, had written to the Ministry of Communications, calling this clause “unreasonable” and seeking its amendment. He had argued that such a restriction did not apply to the chairperson and members of the Competition Commission and of SEBI, who were eligible for future employment in central and state government agencies, and local and statutory authorities.

Misra, a UP-cadre IAS officer of the 1967 batch, was chairman of TRAI from March 2006 to 2009.

When contacted on Tuesday, Misra said: “I’m not in a position to discuss anything about this.” Asked if the specific  Ex-TRAI chief named Principal Secy to PM but law may not allow it provision in the TRAI Act was a hindrance in his appointment, he said, “I’m already looking after the work as Principal Secretary.”

Ravi Shankar Prasad, the new Telecom and Law Minister, when asked about this, said: “I will need to check.”

When contacted, Manish Tewari, former I&B Minister said: “Before the government makes any appointment, it would be worthwhile to peruse Sub Section 8 of Section 5 of the TRAI Act which bars any chairperson or any whole time member of the TRAI from holding any office under the Central government or any state government.”

Curiously, in the version of the TRAI Act, 1997, on the website of the telecom regulator, the words “shall be ineligible” in the operative portion — Section 5(8) — are substituted with “shall be eligible.” Moreover, in the website version, this clause figures as Section 5 (h), not Section 5 (8) as in the version available on, the “National Portal of India.”

A set of amendments were made to the TRAI Act in 2000, but the only applicable change incorporated in Section 5, subsection 8, was a reduction in the prescribed time-frame barring a TRAI chairperson or member from seeking commercial employment after retirement from two years to one year.

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