After no-show for 8 months, panel to choose ONGC chairman and MD

After no-show for 8 months, panel to choose ONGC chairman and MD

Eight months after its headhunter failed to find any suitable candidate for top job at ONGC, the government will deploy a sparingly used committee approach to find a new chairman and managing director of India's top oil and gas producer.

Most board level appointments at public sector companies are done on the basis of recommendations of the Public Enterprise Selection Board (PESB) but the government headhunter had in June last year did not find anyone suitable from nine candidates, including two serving IAS officers, to head Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

"Keeping in view the strategic importance and vision for the company and its future, the Board did not recommend any candidate and decided to constitute a Search Committee," PESB had said in a notice after interviews on June 5, 2021.

The panel was constituted after eight months of that recommendation on February 4.

"The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) has approved selection to the post of Chairman & Managing Director, ONGC through a Search-cum-Selection Committee," an official order said.

The panel will comprise of Chairperson of PESB, Oil Secretary, and B Ashok, former chairman of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), it said adding Ashok is the outside expert of eminence on the panel.

The ACC also approved "consideration of Central government officers including those of the Armed Forces of the Union and the All India Services for the post on immediate absorption basis."

As per the practice, PESB recommends a name for a board level position at least 3 months prior to arising of the vacancy. However, in the case of ONGC, PESB advertised and interviewed candidates after the retirement of Shashi Shanker on March 31, 2021.

The committee route for appointment of PSU board members has very sparingly been used in the past. In 2016, current NTPC chairman Gurdeep Singh was appointed through the route. Last appointment using the route was that of Sanjeev Kumar as the chairman of Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL).

PESB had on June 5, 2021, interviewed nine out of the 10 candidates who had applied for the post of Chairman and Managing Director of ONGC. Those interviewed included senior bureaucrats Avinash Joshi and Niraj Verma.

Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) director-finance Pomila Jaspal and ONGC director for technology and field services Om Prakash Singh were the other prominent names who were interviewed, as per the PESB notice.

Both the bureaucrats are from the 1994 batch of IAS officers belonging to the Assam-Meghalaya cadre.

Others interviewed by PESB were ONGC executive directors Sandeep Gupta, Pankaj Kumar and Omkar Nath Gyani, ONGC additional director general Anand Gupta, and Container Corporation of India director-finance Manoj Kumar Dubey.

Security Printing and Minting Corp of India Ltd director-finance Ajay Agarwal, who had applied for the job, did not appear for the interview.

This is the second time in one-and-a-half decades that a suitable candidate was not found among those who had applied.

In August 2006, PESB chose R S Sharma to head the company but the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in February 2007 vetoed his appointment as it wanted the selection process to be widened by inviting candidates from the private sector.

In June 2007, PESB again selected Sharma and his candidature was this time endorsed by the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC).

While a replacement to the PSU board position is often selected before the incumbent retires, PESB did not hold any interviews for almost seven months as its chairman wasn't appointed. The government in April 2021 named Mallika Srinivasan, chairman and managing director of Tractors and Farm Equipment (TAFE) Ltd, as the new chairperson of PESB.

She is the first person from the private sector to be appointed as the head of PESB.

After Shanker retired, Subhash Kumar, director for finance and senior most director on ONGC board, was given the additional charge of chairman and managing director.

Kumar retired on December 31, 2021 and Alka Mittal, Director for Human Resources, ONGC, was given additional charge. She will superannuate in August.