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AK Bhalla, Assam-Meghalaya Cadre Officer, Chosen New Home Secretary With Focus on NRC & Kashmir

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While Bhalla in his time at the Centre worked in the ministries of shipping and commerce, it is his experience in Assam that could be utilised most as Amit Shah is keen on a proper implementation of NRC.

New Delhi: Ajay Kumar Bhalla, a 1984-batch IAS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, has been appointed the next Union Home Secretary.

Bhalla, currently the Union Power Secretary, has been appointed Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) with immediate effect. The norm is to appoint the new home secretary as an OSD to the incumbent for at least a month, giving him and the ministry time to make a smooth transition.

Rajiv Gauba, the current Home Secretary, is scheduled to retire on August 31. Bhalla will have a fixed two-year tenure till August 2021.

A resident of Delhi, Bhalla has an MBA degree from The University of Queensland in Australia and will take over at a crucial junction when Home Minister Amit Shah has announced his intention to take decisive steps to “solve” the Kashmir problem.

In Assam, Bhalla handled various departments, including general administration, home, commerce, transport and drinking water. While Bhalla in his time at the Centre worked in the ministries of shipping, commerce, and power as well as with the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), it is his experience in Assam that could be utilised most as Home Secretary.

Jammu and Kashmir and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam are the two key challenges before the government and Shah is keen on a proper implementation of latter.

The corridors of the power ministry are abuzz with speculation that Bhalla became one of the most relied-upon officials after the successful implementation of the Saubhagaya scheme, which is one of the flagship programmes led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Before that, Bhalla had caught the attention of the BJP top brass after playing a key role in coal block auctions during the first term of the Modi government.

Bhalla was posted in the coal ministry when a leaked report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2012 said the allocation of coal blocks had caused a loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore. The report had shaken the Congress-led UPA government, which was then in power. Bhalla bore the wrath of the Supreme Court for sharing the CBI’s draft investigation status report with the then law minister Ashwani Kumar. Bhalla was one of the two coal ministry joint secretaries who were named.

He subsequently went on to play a crucial role in the first coal block auction India witnessed in 2015. Former Coal Secretary Anil Swarup, was effusive in his praise for A K Bhalla. After the ACC appointed Bhalla OSD To MHA, Swarup tweeted, “Bhalla is one of the finest officers I had the privilege to work with. He, along with a committed team, was responsible for clearing the coal mess. He will do well wherever he goes though he was well on his way to clear the power mess as well. ”

An official from the Assam-Meghalaya cadre told News18, “Since his days in the home cadre, Bhalla has carried the reputation of being a very effective officer and a fine human being. He worked in Assam and briefly in Meghalaya and was always considered efficient.”

Incidentally Bhalla is the second person after PK Sinha, who is moving from secretary power, to the power corridors of North and South block. He also succeeds Power Minister R K Singh who had occupied the home secretary’s office in North block till 2013.

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