Former Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman Nripendra Misra on 28th May has been appointed principal secretary to the prime minister, but only after the President of India signed an ordinance changing the appointment rulebook. The move came as a shock to the bureaucracy, which was united in the view that it would be a big blow to the autonomy of regulators, not only at the Centre but also in states. Misra is known to have low tolerance for ignorance among the people around him. Journalists interviewing him have also faced his cutting remarks, when he found them without the requisite homework. His new boss, Narendra Modi, is believed to have a similar no-nonsense approach to work.
As TRAI Chairman (2006-09), Misra took lot of interest in restructuring and organizing the fragmented Cable TV and Broadcasting Industry. Major Consultations taken up during his tenure are- licensing issue relating to DTH & HITS, issue relating to Tariff for Cable Television Service in non-CAS area, Revenue Sharing formula for service providers in CAS notified area, Media Ownership, Guidelines for Television Audience Measurement/ Television Rating Points (TRP), interconnection issues relating to Broadcasting and Cable services, Restructuring of Cable TV services, foreign investment limit for broadcasting sector etc. He had a very practical approach to regulating the industry considering the situation on the ground as all stakeholders were very satisfied with CAS regulations.
Misra is extremely experienced in government office as in the past he has served in multiple important positions. He has taken on many roles: Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI); Secretary, Department of Telecommunications & Chairman Telecom Commission, Government of India; Secretary, Department of Fertilizers; Special Secretary/Additional Secretary, World Trade Organisation (WTO), Ministry of Commerce, Minister (Economic), Embassy of India, USA; Joint Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, and district level and other senior assignments in the state government of Uttar Pradesh.
After retiring in 2009 from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), where he had issued controversial recommendations on spectrum allocation and auction, he was heading an NGO 'Public Interest Foundation’. At present, he is also a member of the executive council of the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), a New Delhi-based think-tank founded in 2009 "under the aegis of the Vivekananda Kendra". The Vivekananda Kendra was founded in 1972 by former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh general-secretary (sarkaryavah) Eknath Ranade. Misra's appointment would have been in violation of a provision in the TRAI Act that makes a chairman of the regulator 'ineligible' for further employment under the central or a state government, so the government moved an ordinance to circumvent the law. In Misra's defence, some bureaucrats pointed to the Trai Act, which says the law applies only to those chairmen and board members who have either resigned from the body or have been removed from office. On this, Constitutional expert Rajeev Dhavan said the law was clear: Misra's appointment was illegal.
"Nripendra Misra is no doubt a distinguished civil servant. However, on reading sub sections (2), (7), and (8) of Section 5 of the Trai Act, Mr Misra is regrettably ineligible for further employment with the central government," said Dhavan, adding: "There is no doubt that Mr Misra is not eligible to be principal secretary."
REWRITING THE RULEBOOK
Section 5(8) of the TRAI Act says, the chairperson or any wholetime 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 one year from the date he ceases to hold such office
Section 5(8) of the Trai Act (after amendment through the ordinance) says
The chairperson and the wholetime members shall not, for two years from the date on which they cease to hold office as such, except with the previous approval of the Central govt, accept
(a) Any employment under the central govt or state govt; or
(b) Appointment in any company in the business of telecommunication service.