The Department of Personnel and Training on the weekend made three key appointments to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to aid incoming President Ram Nath Kovind in the discharge of his duties.
Bharat Lal, an Indian Forest Service officer from Gujarat will be joint secretary to the president.
Senior journalist Ashok Malik, known to be a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been brought in as press secretary to the president. Sanjay Kothari, former secretary in the Department of Personnel and Training, will be secretary to the president.
It is a convention that the new president gets to choose the officers who will take care of administrative responsibilities at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. A former senior official who worked in the Rashtrapati Bhavan said usually the request for specific officers comes from the president-elect. “It is then considered by the Department of Personnel and Training and a notification is issued,” the officer added, asking to remain unidentified.
Rarely does the government refuse to shift an officer of the president’s choice to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. “Unless the officer sought is absolutely necessary for the functioning of the government, they would be deputed immediately,” he said.
In the case of the recent appointments, though, Delhi’s bureaucratic circle is abuzz with discussions on whether the officers were independently requested by the president-elect or they were suggested by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Lal is known to be a confidant of Modi. As Gujarat’s resident commissioner from 2010 to 2014, he was Modi’s pointsman in Delhi. In 2014, he was a serious contender for the post of Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The other two appointees are also known for their proximity to the Prime Minister’s Office. Kothari is considered close to PK Mishra, the additional principal secretary to the prime minister. The retired IAS officer will now fill the most important bureaucratic post in the country’s highest constitutional office.
Several bureaucrats told Scroll.in that these appointment may have been made to ensure swift and proper coordination between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Moreover, there was nothing wrong in the president-elect asking for specific officers before taking oath as arrangements for the swearing-in have to be taken care of.
A retired official, however, also pointed to outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee’s farewell speech, in which he cautioned against the arbitrary use of ordinances. “Rashtrapati Bhavan plays an important role when it comes to ordinances as the president has to promulgate them,” he said. “Therefore, officers well aware of the government’s intentions could cut time taken in clearing the ordinances.”
Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this article had erroneously stated that Indian Forest Service Officer Bharat Lal was a joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office.