Keen to fill vacant posts at regulatory bodies at the earliest: Sitharaman

The Centre had invited applications for the Sebi chairperson’s position in October 2021

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Nirmala Sitharaman | IRDAI

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday said the government was keen to fill the vacant position of Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irdai) chairman at the earliest. She, however, stopped short of giving a timeline on when the appointment for the post, lying vacant since May 2021, will be made.

She said the government was also in the process of filling up the soon-to- be vacant chairman’s post of Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi). Incumbent Ajay Tyagi’s term as the chairman will come to an end on February 28. In a press meet, the finance minister, referring to the vacant Irdai chairman’s position, said: “I recognise it’s been vacant. The person holding additional charge is probably steering it forward and the government will appoint somebody. I would like to have somebody at the earliest.”

Subhash Chandra Khuntia, the former Irdai chairman, left office in May, 2021, after completing his three-year term. He was not given any extension. Although the government had invited applications for the Irdai chairman’s post, no appointment has been made so far. In the interim, T L Alamelu, member non-life, has been heading the insurance regulator, a source said.

The Irdai chairman’s position is lying vacant at a time when life insurance behemoth, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), is supposed to get listed on the bourses, making it, perhaps, the biggest moment for the industry since privatisation. Also, during this time the insurance sector has had to pay a huge number of claims due to the ongoing Covid crisis. There were many names in the fray for the chairman’s post, including incumbent members of the regulator.

Referring to the Sebi chairman’s post, she said: “The process for calling for application has already happened. Shortlisting is, probably, yet to happen. So, you will have to wait till February 28 to know what we are going to do.”

The Centre had invited applications for the Sebi chairperson’s position in October 2021. Tyagi, who took over as Sebi chief in 2017 for a three-year term, was given a six-month extension in February 2020. In August 2020, the government had granted an 18-month extension during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tyagi’s predecessor UK Sinha, who too was initially appointed for a three-year term, was also given multiple extensions. He remained at the helm for six years from 2011 to 2017.

Meanwhile, the FM said the government was aware of the soon-to-be vacant post of chairman at the largest state-owned general insurer, New India Assurance, as the term of the incumbent, Atul Sahai, is coming to an end later this month. This is of particular significance as the Delhi High Court has ruled that the head-hunting body of state-owned banks — Banks Board Bureau (BBB) — is not the competent body to appoint heads of state-owned insurance companies. The court had held that circulars enabling BBB to select the GM and directors of government-owned general insurers are not legally valid. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for March 21.

It was reported that, perhaps, Anjan Dey, the current chairman of state-owned Oriental Insurance Company, would be appointed as the acting chairman of New India Assurance, in addition to his charge as the chairman at Oriental Insurance. But, this move is said to have faced resistance from the insurance regulator, citing corporate governance issues.

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