Ex-NITI Aayog official joining Google India raises conflict of interest issues

Though Archana Goyal Gulati joined after one-year ‘cooling off’ period, her tenure with Competition Commission of India during probe against Google raises questions

Archana Goyal Gulati was posted in the CCI when it probed Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, over allegations of abuse of dominance in news aggregation

The cooling-off period for retired bureaucrats is in the news again after Archana Goyal Gulati, a former NITI Aayog and Competition Commission of India (CCI) official, joined Google as the public policy head (India) a year after her voluntary retirement.

Gulati was posted in the CCI when it ordered a probe into Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company. In a separate case, the CCI has published initial findings of a case against Google, where it termed the Android owner’s billing system for app developers unfair and discriminatory.

“I have joined after the end of the cooling-off period,” Gulati told The Indian Express, adding that she did not seek permission as it is “not needed for post-retirement employment”.

All-India service rules

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As per rules for all-India services, officials have to undergo a “cooling-off period” for a year. Post-retirement commercial employment for Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Forest Service is covered under the AIS Death-cum-Benefits Rules. The Central Civil Services are covered under the CCS (Pension) Rules

Government permission is needed for post-retirement commercial employment if the job is taken up within one year of leaving office. The government can deduct whole or part of the pension for flouting the rules.

Post-retirement commercial employment includes employment as an agent, under a company, co-operative society, firm or individual engaged in trading or business. It also comprises setting up practice, either independently or as a partner, adviser or consultant, including matters that are relatable to the pensioner’s official knowledge or experience.

It does not include employment under a body corporate, wholly or substantially owned or controlled by the central government or a state government. Also, there is no rule to stop a government servant from joining politics after retirement.

CCS Pension rules

The CCS (Pension) Rules specify that permission can be refused if the individual is awaiting a no-objection for the proposed employment from the cadre controlling authority and from the office where the officer retired, or if the officer has been privy to sensitive or strategic information in the past three years of service that is directly related to the work of the organisation he proposes to join.

The permission can be also refused if there is a conflict of interest between the policies of the office he has held in the last three years and the interests/work of this organisation and in the case of national security; that is, if the organisation has been in conflict with or prejudicial to India’s foreign relations, national security and domestic harmony.

Conflict of interest does not include normal economic competition with the government or its undertakings.

A 1989-batch official

Gulati, a 1989-batch official of the Indian Posts and Telecommunication Accounts and Finance Service (Indian P&TAFS), served in NITI Aayog as Joint Secretary/ Adviser (ICTs and Infrastructure), the Department of Telecommunications and the Competition Commission of India (CCI).

She has joined Google as the Chief of Public Policy after taking voluntary retirement from the civil service. She has completed the one-year cooling period. But her appointment is raising questions because she was posted in the CCI when it ordered a probe into Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, over allegations of abuse of dominance in news aggregation and forcing unfair terms on digital news publishers.

Gulati was Joint Secretary, Digital Communications at NITI Aayog from August 2019 to April 2021, prior to which she served as an Officer on Special Duty with the Secretary of Telecom for more than two years. From June 2014 to June 2016, she served as a senior official at the CCI looking at mergers and acquisitions, according to her LinkedIn profile.

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