Though the government has repeatedly talked of professionalising the running of all organisations, including banks and public sector units, the inexplicable delay over appointing a new Sebi chief makes a mockery of this. Fortunately, the suspense over the Sebi top job is over with the government finally announcing a one-year extension for the incumbent, U K Sinha—he has been in the job for five years with a two-year extension after the initial three-year term. But, why it took so long is not clear since the dates on which Sinha’s term would come to an end, in fact, were known on the very day he got his extension; his current term ends on Wednesday. Indeed, what the delay did was to add to uncertainty in other sectors as
well since, based on newspaper reports, SBI chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya was the front-runner for the job. With no certainty over whether she was going to get the Sebi job, or whether she would get an extension in the current job, investors had every reason to be that much more jittery about SBI’s stock. Had this been the first instance of treating top jobs in such a cavalier manner, it would not have mattered so much. It took almost two months to appoint RS Sharma as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman after Rahul Khullar retired. And there are several such examples.
Given that there is a period of learning required for any top job, it would be a good idea in future to emulate what the UPA did in the case of the RBI Governor. When Raghuram Rajan was appointed Governor, he was seconded to the central bank as an officer on special duty so that he could familiarise himself with RBI’s working—as chief economic advisor, in any case, interacting with RBI was something that he had done earlier. The only way to explain the reluctance to select people for the job well in advance can be found in the dialogue between Bernard Woolley and Humphrey Appleby in Yes, Minister where Appleby explains the facts of life, as it were, to Woolley: “Power goes with permanence, impermanence is impotence, rotation is castration”.