The oil ministry has proposed raising the age limit as well as reducing the tenure for the new chairman and managing director of ONGC.
- A vacancy for the chairman at ONGC arose on April 1, 2021, after Shashi Shankar superannuated on March 31, 2021.
- PESB was unable to find a suitable candidate among the applicants.
- The oil ministry has proposed pushing the age limit up and reducing the tenure of the new chairman and managing director of ONGC.
As per the ministry’s office memorandum sent to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on June 17, it has been proposed that any candidate to be eligible for consideration should not be more than 60 years of age on the date the vacancy occurs. Currently, the minimum age prescribed for being eligible for the top job at ONGC is 45 years. Furthermore, candidates need to have residual service as on the date of the vacancy. Two years for internal candidates and three years for external candidates. Another change proposed by the ministry is reducing the appointment period from the present 5-year term to a period of three years from the date of joining. The vacancy at ONGC arose on April 1, 2021, after Shashi Shanker superannuated on March 31, 2021. Most board-level appointments at public sector companies are made on the basis of recommendations by the Public Enterprise Selection Board (PESB). However, in june of 2021, the government headhunter did not find anyone suitable to head the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). Among the nine candidates who were interviewed from the ten who had applied, two were serving IAS officers.
PESB held interviews on June 5, 2021. The candidates 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 also applied. Others 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, also applied for the job, but did not appear for the interview.
“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 stated in a letter, referring to PESB’s interviews on June 5, 2021.
The selection will be done by a three-member search-cum-selection committee. It is headed by the PESB chairman and composed of the oil secretary and former Indian Oil chairman, B Ashok, who is an outside expert. The panel was constituted on February 4, 2022, after eight months of that recommendation. The terms of reference are being framed now. The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) approved the consideration of central government officers. This includes the armed forces of the Union and all India services for the post on an 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 an NOC, it is necessary to have a specially designed ‘sui generis’ job description for ONGC in order to attract the best talent available,” the ministry letter said.
If the proposal is accepted, it will open the field to ONGC’s former director (finance) Subhash Kumar as well as current acting chairman Alka Mittal. Several internal directors of ONGC would also become eligible due to the age relaxation. These candidates were otherwise ineligible for the post. 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. He retired on December 31, 2021. Alka Mittal, Director for Human Resources, ONGC, was given an additional charge. She will superannuate in August.
The committee route for the appointment of PSU board members has been used seldom in the past. In 2016, current NTPC chairman Gurdeep Singh was appointed in this way. The last appointment using this method was that of Sanjeev Kumar. He was selected as the chairman of Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL). This was the second time in fifteen years that a suitable candidate was not found among those who had applied. In August 2006, PESB chose R S Sharma to head the company. However, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) vetoed his appointment in February 2007. They desired to widen the selection process by opening it to candidates from the private sector. In June 2007, PESB again selected Sharma. This time, his candidature was endorsed by the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC). Generally, a replacement to the PSU board position is selected before the incumbent retires. PESB recommends a name for such a position at least three months prior to arising of the vacancy. This time was an exception. The PESB did not hold any interviews for almost seven months as its chairman position was vacant. In April 2021, the government named Mallika Srinivasan as the new chairperson of PESB. Previously, she was the chairman and managing director of Tractors and Farm Equipment (TAFE) Ltd. Thus, she became the first person from the private sector to be appointed as the head of PESB.
A year after the government headhunter failed to find any suitable candidate for the chairman post at ONGC, the oil ministry proposed a higher age limit and shorter tenure. If accepted, this move will open doors for many other applicants who might be interested. A search committee is also formed to find a suitable candidate for the top job at India’s top oil and gas producer.