As the race for the chairmanship of market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India is entering the last lap, the contest is narrowing down to just three or four aspirants. If UTI AMC Chairman U K Sinha and Corporate Affairs Secretary R Bandyopadhyay are the hot favourites, K P Krishnan, who is currently Secretary of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, has emerged as dark horse for heading the capital market watchdog. The Sebi hot seat is getting vacant in February when current chairman CB Bhave retires.

The government has scheduled the interviews for various candidates on December 3, although it can invite candidates who have not formally submitted an application for the post (Outgoing chief CB Bhave was selected as chairman last time even though he did not apply for it).  

The selection panel, led by Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, comprising Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla , Financial Services Secretary R Gopalan and Department of Personnel Secretary Shantanu Consul as members, had zeroed in on seven candidates at its last meeting, but some of them have reportedly opted out. Furthermore, reservations have been expressed about a couple of them by senior policymakers and regulators, according to a PTI report. The committee had considered close to 20 candidates at its last meeting.

So who are likely to make it? With the caveat that there could be a wild card entry any time, VCCircle profiles the candidates who have a high chance of making it to the hot seat.

For Sinha, it’s a battle that he lost once

Even though UK Sinha, a former IAS officer of Bihar cadre (1976 batch), did not apply for the post, he came into the reckoning as a potential candidate as the selection committee on their own chose to include him in the list. This will be Sinha’s second attempt for the top post in SEBI as he had lost out in the race last time when Prime Minister's Office (PMO) preferred C B Bhave, the current Sebi chairman, over him.

Sinha had to exit the IAS pre-maturely in 2008 when he had four more years in service as the Government did not agree to continue him at UTI AMC beyond May 2008. Despite Cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar’s recommendation for an extension for Sinha in UTI AMC beyond May 2008, which was favoured by Finance Minister P Chidambaram, PMO directed that he be reverted to his parent cadre, Bihar.

As a result, Sinha quit IAS when he was holding the rank of an Additional Secretary to the Government of India and continuing on deputation with UTI. But after quitting civil service, he was given another five-year term as CMD, not as a government nominee, but as the choice of the stakeholders of UTI AMC. State Bank of India (SBI), Bank of Baroda (BOB), Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and Punjab National Bank (PNB) are the promoters of UTI AMC.

Before taking over at UTI AMC, Sinha held key positions in the Government of India, notably in the Ministry of Finance, where he was the Joint Secretary, looking after Capital Markets, External Commercial Borrowings, Banking and Currency and Coins. During his tenure at the ministry, he spearheaded several initiatives, such as banking and capital market reforms. He is also the Chairman of mutual fund industry body AMFI.

Sinha has emerged as a top choice for SEBI chairman's post.

The last lap for Bandyopadhyay

R. Bandyopadhyay, Secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, a high-profile 1974 IAS officer from West Bengal, is another top candidate to head SEBI. He is also believed to have the backing of Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Before joining as Secretary, MCA, he functioned as Secretary, Department of Public Enterprises in the Ministry of Heavy Industry and Public Enterprises.

Some of his achievements being listed by various government websites included that the Navratna companies had grown from 12 to 18 under his tenure. He is also credited with the development of the concept of ‘Maharatna’ for very large profit-making Central Public Sector Enterprises; he was also instrumental in implementing a new pay package for the executives of all the Central Public Sector Enterprises. He has also worked in the Ministry of Telecommunications, Planning Commission, Ministry of Steel, and Ministry of Industry in Government of India at different levels.

Bandyopadhyay has also occupied secretary's role in various departments in his state cadre. He was also a member of the Committee on Financial Inclusion, headed by Dr. C.Rangarajan, ex-Governor, RBI.

If Mukherjee tilts in favour of Bandyopadhyay, it's likely this bureaucrat will head to Mumbai to head SEBI.

Is Krishnan the dark horse?

Dr KP Krishnan, who belongs to the 1983 IAS batch of the Karnataka cadre, had earlier worked as managing director, Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development and Finance Corporation, and secretary for Urban Development and secretary for Finance Department, government of Karnataka. He has also worked as advisor to the executive director of the World Bank in Washington, DC.

Armed with a PhD from IIM, Banglore, Krishnan was a Joint Secretary, Capital Market Division, Department of Economic Affairs prior to joining the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister as Secretary.

In his tenure at Capital Market Division, he led the successful effort for introduction of new products like Exchange Traded Currency Futures, Interest Rate Futures, Credit Default Swaps and Corporate Repos. Krishnan has previously served as a member on SEBI's board, had been a part of various committees formed by SEBI and the Finance Ministry for capital market regulations. He was also a part of the Bimal Jalan committee that last week submitted a report on ownership and governance issues at stock exchanges and other market infrastructure institutions.

But compared to Sinha and Bandyopadhyay, what goes against Krishnan is that he is relatively junior to other candidates. But the backing of PMO and the proposed long tenure of five years for the next SEBI chairman may turn the tides in favour of him.

Two opted out: others still weighing on luck

According to a PTI report, public sector lender SBI Chairman O P Bhatt and Reserve Bank Deputy Governor K C Chakrabarty have opted out from the race for the top post of SEBI, citing lack of interest. Ravi Narain, Managing Director of National Stock Exchange (NSE), was also in the race for the SEBI top job, although he doesn't seem to be a favourite currently.

Others short-listed for the final interview include Department of Disinvestment Additional Secretary S Pradhan, Madhya Pradesh Principal Secretary G P Singhal and two Managing Directors at SBI, S K Bhattacharya and R Sridharan.

The Finance Ministry invited applications for the post of Sebi chairman in September. While the incumbent Bhave, who assumed office in 2007, has a term of three years ending in February, 2011, the next chairman would get a five-year term.

In its notification inviting applications, the Finance Ministry had said the Sebi Chairman would have the option to receive pay equivalent to a Secretary to the Government of India, or a consolidated salary of Rs 3 lakh per month. The Finance Ministry has further said that the person preferably should have more than 25 years of professional experience and fall in the age group of 50-60 years.

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