New Delhi: The Union Ministry of Law and Justice Friday cleared the appointment of retired IAS officer and former finance secretary Rajiv Kumar as the third election commissioner, alongside Sunil Arora, the chief of the panel, and Sushil Chandra.
Kumar has been appointed after election commissioner Ashok Lavasa, who is known to have had a tense relationship with the Narendra Modi government, resigned from his post earlier this week.
Kumar, a 1984 batch IAS officer of the Jharkhand cadre, retired as finance secretary in February this year, and was then picked by the government to head the Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB), the body that clears names of government officials for various top posts in public sector undertakings.
Track record in governance
Rajiv Kumar holds two bachelor’s degrees, one in zoology and the other in law, along with a master’s degree in public policy and sustainability. He is known as a person who manages to find solutions to difficult problems, and is said to enjoy the confidence of the Prime Minister’s Office.
He was the man who implemented the controversial 360-degree appraisal system for the promotion of senior IAS officers during his two-year stint in the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).
He spent two-and-a-half years as the financial services secretary in the Ministry of Finance, and personally oversaw the government’s overhaul of the public sector banks, implementing the EASE agenda aimed at improving their functioning.
Kumar stressed the need for improving the balance sheets of state-run banks, pushing them to focus on the recovery of bad loans to improve profitability.
He also initiated the mega merger of Bank of Baroda with Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank in 2018, followed by another mega round of mergers in which 10 state-run banks were merged into four in 2019.
Kumar is also credited with finding a buyer for IDBI Bank in the form of Life Insurance Corporation of India, enabling the government to sell majority stake in the loss-making lender.
As a member of the board of Reserve Bank of India, Rajiv Kumar was also at the forefront of the battle between the finance ministry and the central bank under then-governor Urjit Patel, which lasted nearly all of 2018. Kumar is understood to have vehemently opposed the RBI’s decision to place some state-owned banks under its prompt corrective action framework, pointing out that it would adversely impact credit flow to sectors like the micro, small and medium enterprises.
Kumar is also said to have favoured aligning capital adequacy requirements of state-run banks with the Basel norms, rather than the relatively higher limits prescribed by the RBI.
In the last few months of his tenure before his superannuation in February 2020, Kumar was also anointed the finance secretary by virtue of being the senior-most secretary in the finance ministry. The February 2020 budget, in which the government announced its ambitious plan to list LIC, was shaped under Kumar.
His colleagues call him a driven and hard-working individual.