'Rules tweaked to favour national trust ex-chief'

A parliamentary panel has fumed at a top appointment in Social Justice Ministry, made during the previous UPA government, as it discovered an unprecedented attempt to allow a woman to be head of a national trust to remain in office by “tweaking” and making recruitment rules “restrictive”.

Poonam Natrajan, appointed by the Congress-led government in January 2006 as chairperson of National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities, continued in office and resigned only in October, 2014 after the parliamentary committee on subordinate legislation took up the serious issue of exploitation of loopholes in the law regarding the differently-abled persons, sources said. Prasanna Kumar Pincha replaced Natrajan to become the new trust chairperson on October 24 for a fixed tenure of three years.

The panel report exposing recruitment scandal will be tabled in Parliament on Thursday. The miffed committee on subordinate legislation, headed by Congress MP T Subbarami Reddy, is learnt to have indicted the Social Welfare and Empowerment Ministry after coming across blatant attempts to ensure that the chairperson was given repeated extensions through a deliberate maze of vague recruitment rules and deliberate delays that had irked Appointment Committee of the Cabinet as well as the Department of Personnel.

The ministry is understood to have tried to keep a distance from the controversy on the grounds that the trust was an autonomous body and a relevant Act did not provide for framing of specific recruitment rules for the chairperson post but the parliamentary panel was not convinced.

The panel was also surprised that senior ministry officials were sluggish in avoiding breaches of the rules and regulations despite pointed out by the members in earlier hearings.

The panel came to know that the CEO of the trust was asked to leave his office after it started examining the issue. Another fact, said sources, that hints at collusion between the ministry and former chairperson was that top officials gave her extension till end of this year instead of deciding on her resignation letter knowing very well that the issue was under scrutiny. But, days later, the ministry refused to accept her resignation, sources pointed out.

The panel has directed the ministry to frame detailed guidelines for appointment of trust chairperson to avoid recurrence of similar scandal.

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