Kerala government picks IRS officer TP Salim Kumar as full-time CEO of Maritime Board

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on June 22, 2020

Move aimed at ending the face-off between the bureaucracy and the Board

The Kerala government has picked Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer TP Salim Kumar as the full-time Chief Executive Officer of the Kerala Maritime Board (KMB) as the ruling Left Front moves to end a run-in between the political nominees on the Board and the State’s bureaucracy that was hurting the development of the State’s coastline.

Salim Kumar is currently an assistant commissioner with Mumbai Customs. He will replace the Board’s current CEO, Geromic George, an IAS officer who is often blamed for not implementing the 125-plus decisions taken by the Board spread over 12 meetings, which includes many projects, after it started functioning in August 2018.

Row over incentive scheme

The simmering face-off between the Board and the IAS establishment came to a boil earlier this month when the Fisheries and Ports Department notified an incentive scheme for promoting coastal shipping in the State, disregarding the proposal submitted by the Board on the matter.

The June 4 government order is not clear on how much the government will pay as incentive and who are the intended beneficiaries: cargo owners or ship operators.

Besides, the scheme is valid for six months, a short period that would deter ship operators from chartering vessels to run services. The scheme should be valid for at least three years, according to a paper presented by ship operator Great Sea Shipping, to the Ports Department.

“Thus, the publication of a vague notification on incentives by the Fisheries and Ports Department without fixing a particular amount as incentives and without specifying whether the incentives payable are applicable for all containers — loaded and empty — and for onward and return journeys or only for void/empty slots on the return journey as proposed by the Board, is intended to further delay coastal ship operations and blame the Maritime Board for inefficiency,” said a shipping industry executive familiar with the matter.

Earlier, in a May 11 letter to CEO George, Board Chairman VJ Mathew had complained of non-cooperation by him and for “issuing orders nullifying the Board’s decisions and acting against the statute without the Chairman’s knowledge, which had even reached a stage in freezing the bank accounts of the Maritime Board by the Board’s CEO, who is an executing officer of the Board, under instructions from higher officers without the knowledge of the Board or Chairman”.

Funds allotted by the State budget have not been transferred to the Board till date, he wrote.

BusinessLine has reviewed a copy of the letter written by Mathew, which was marked to the Chief Minister, Ports Minister, Chief Secretary and Ports Secretary.

Board Chairman Mathew also asked the CEO to explain in writing “the reasons behind the delay and failure to execute and enforce the Board’s decisions”, stating that the CEO is solely responsible for executing the decisions and directions of the Board.

This was due to a well-planned conspiracy by the bureaucrats and other interested offices to blame the Board and the Chairman for hindering the development of the State’s coastline, he alleged in the letter.

In the letter, Mathew also urged the government “to appoint a full-time CEO and till then give necessary instructions to CEO George to immediately enforce and execute all the 125 plus important projects and decisions of the Board on a time-bound basis”.

CM’s move

In a meeting called on February 12 to resolve the vexed issue, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had directed the Secretary Ports to hand over all powers on ports and its administration to the Maritime Board to enable it to function independently.

Mathew alleged in the letter that the minutes of the February 12 meeting were “manipulated” by vested interests and the Board had lodged a complaint with the CM’s office on it.

While the government’s decision to appoint Salim Kumar as the new full-time CEO of the Board was communicated to the incumbent CEO on May 18, the process of seeking a no-objection certificate from the Central government for his appointment is yet to be completed, causing delay.

George did not respond to a call seeking comment. A text message sent to his mobile went unanswered.

Referring to Mathew’s charge that the incentive scheme was not discussed in the Maritime Board ahead of its announcement and the lack of clarity, an official in the State’s bureaucratic establishment said: “It need not go to the Board. The Board had itself said that incentives are necessary to promote coastal shipping. It has to be decided by the government. Once the scheme is announced by the government, the Board can frame guidelines or standard operating procedures (SOP) to implement it after taking the views and concerns of all the stakeholders”.

“The State’s coastline is an untapped area; the possibilities are immense,” the official said.

“Incentives are necessary to regain the lost tempo, to create confidence among the industry, particularly on generating return cargo and to promote the sector. The Board should act as a facilitator,” he added.

Published on June 22, 2020

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