What do these companies – National Textile Corporation, National Fertilisers, BPCL, National Research Development Corp, Engineers India, BEML, Bharat Coking Coal, IRCTC, have in common? Well, for beginners, they are all PSUs and secondly, in all of them, the top post of Chairman & Managing Director (CMD) is vacant.
And not just the top post, even mid-level and director posts are empty. So we have these PSUs running on its own momentum but headless.
While in some cases, these top posts have got vacant just a month or few months ago, but some are vacant for couple of years, some from 2017 too. That’s not all – there are so many more vacancies which recently opened up – CMDs for BEL, POSOCO, WAPCOS, Northern Coalfields, Mumbai Railway Viaks Corp, Hindustan Organic Chemicals Ltd, Brahmaputra Valley Fertilizer Corporation, National Seeds Corporation, RITES Limited, KIOCL Limited, Scooters India, Cement Corporation of India, IRCON, Rashtriya Ispat Nigam, ONGC, Rural Electrification Corporation, BPCL. The list of vacancies is long and that for directors, literally runs into pages. In all 134 recent vacancies in CMD and director posts. (For a complete list go to: https://pesb.gov.in/Home/Vacancies)
Ironically, Public Enterprises Selection Board (PSEB), the body which is supposed to fill in these vacancies is itself headless and that too since Sept 2020! The PSEB has three members apart from the Chairman, of those three, one member post is also vacant.
An enterprise running without a leader is like a household without a karta – everything goes haywire and that is what percolates down to the lowest level and thus the performance. And then it is said that PSUs are loss-making and are inefficient. What else will they be if this is the lackadaisical attitude to fill up the most important post? In private sector companies, the successor is appointed immediately, most of the times, before the existing CEO leaves. In PSUs, they know the retirement age, so why no planning?
But does that mean that the PSUs do not employ good talent at all? Not all! In fact they have some of the best talent in the country but the shackles of red tape and crony capitalism, lack of autonomy, corruption, nepotism and persistent interference from the politicians keeps these talented men/women from doing what is right and what is required.
Unless the way of working of PSUs, which is run like a personal fiefdom of the politicians is not stopped, even getting the best talent from the private sector will not help. In all probability, they will most likely quit. The crux of the problem is undoubtedly political and bureaucratic interference in management. At a time when Govt is looking at divestment as the best way to fil its coffers, this does exactly look very professional. A complete revamp of the way in which PSUs work, complete autonomy, stricter standards of accountability for its Board and least interference from the Govt could be a new beginning.
Now that does sound like a piped dream, which is why the easier way out is selling them away, making them somebody else’s problem!