A year after the government headhunter failed to find any suitable candidate for the top job at ONGC, the oil ministry has proposed raising of eligibility age as well as a shorter tenure for the new chairman and managing director of India's top oil and gas producer. The ministry has proposed that any candidate to be eligible for consideration should not be more than 60 years of age on the date of occurrence of the vacancy, according to the ministry's office memorandum sent to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on June 17.
The vacancy arose after Shashi Shanker superannuated on March 31, 2021. Presently, the minimum age prescribed for being eligible for the top job is 45 years. Besides, internal candidates need to have two years of residual service from the date of vacancy and three years for external candidates.
What the ministry has proposed now is that any eligible candidate who is not more than 60 years of age at the time of occurrence of the vacancy, which was April 1, 2021, should be considered eligible.
This would essentially mean that the current acting chairman, Alka Mittal, who otherwise would retire in August-end and was ineligible, would come under the zone of consideration. As per existing rules, Mittal was not eligible for the post when the government headhunter interviewed candidates in June last year. The ministry has also proposed an appointment for a period of three years from the date of joining instead of the present five-year term, according to the letter.
The selection will be done through a three-member search-cum-selection committee headed by the PESB chairman and composed of oil secretary and former Indian Oil chairman B Ashok (outside expert). The panel was formed on February 4, 2022 but the terms of reference are being framed only now.
Most board-level appointments at public sector companies are done on the basis of recommendations of the Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB) but the government headhunter in June last year did not find anyone suitable among 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," the ministry letter said, referring to PESB's 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) 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."
"Energy security is critical for the nation. ONGC plays a pivotal role in exploration as India's National Oil Company (NOC). Its activities need to be scaled significantly and rapidly. As a NOC, it is necessary to have a specially designed 'sui generis' job description for ONGC in order to attract the best talent available," it said. If accepted, the proposal will throw open the field for ONGC's former director (finance) Subhash Kumar as well as current acting chairman Alka Mittal, who otherwise was ineligible for the post.
As per the practice, PESB recommends a name for a board-level position at least three 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. After Shanker retired, Subhash Kumar, director for finance and the senior-most director on the ONGC board, was given the additional charge as 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.
Other internal directors of ONGC would also become eligible due to the age relaxation. The committee route for the 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. The 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 was 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 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