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India’s second most powerful person

Pulok Chatterjee recreates the golden age of omnipotent Principal Secretaries who governed India unopposed.

Published: 22nd January 2012 12:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:19 PM   |  A+A-

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Pulok Chatterjee

NEW DELHI: He’s the ultimate firewall of the Indian government. Be it media management, reviving derailed economic reforms, pending infrastructure projects or, even more importantly, top security files that should ideally come under the jurisdiction of National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, nothing can move forward without Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Pulok Chatterjee’s nod. Reaching Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has now become a single window service.

Earlier this week, a committee of secretaries was set up under Chatterjee—not Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth, as is the norm—to chalk out a time-bound action plan on coal and gas shortage, cheap imported coal, hike in power tariffs and for unleashing the second generation of power reforms.

Chatterjee is also coordinating with crucial ministries, a job usually assigned to the Cabinet Secretary. Though Seth and Chatterjee are from the same Uttar Pradesh IAS cadre, it is increasingly becoming clear that it would be the Principal Secretary and not the Cabinet Secretary who will call the shots on the economy and derailment of economic reforms.

Senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and government say, “There’s no apparent or underlying conflict—in areas which require an extra push, the Principal Secretary will step in, and the Cabinet Secretary will do the needful for which sustained monitoring is needed.”

Chatterjee has never handled any ministry directly in his 36-year-old career, but he picked up enough inside information on how ministers function while dealing with the crucial Cabinet Committee on Appointments when he was an additional secretary in the PMO. Within weeks of his taking over, the top PMO job from the once omnipotent TKA Nair, Chatterjee left nobody in doubt about who will be calling the shots. The Intelligence Bureau chief N Sandhu was rapped on the knuckles for sending files directly to the NSA. He was promptly instructed that all matters and files relating to security should be routed through the Principal Secretary. In one fell swoop, a system set up during M K Narayanan’s time—of the Intelligence Bureau and other intelligence chiefs directly reporting to the NSA—was passed over by the end of October 2011.

Says a PMO official, “There was no surprise; ultimately personalities shape offices. Earlier, the Principal Secretary handled only issues relating to energy security, while the rest of the security edifice reported to the NSA. Now, it’s reversed back.’’



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