New Delhi: Two top-level posts are vacant at oil and natural gas exploration major ONGC, which finds itself in the middle of a controversy after 51 people died off India’s west coast when Cyclone Tauktae hit ONGC’s major production installations and drilling rigs located there.
The post of the chairman and managing director (CMD) of ONGC has been lying vacant since April 2021 after its serving CMD Shashi Shanker superannuated on 31 March. Subhash Kumar, director-Finance, holds the additional charge of CMD pending a full time appointment.
But what is interesting is that the vacancy for the post was first advertised on 2 March 2020, more than a year before it was due to fall vacant, according to data available on the website of Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB).
Similarly, the post of director-Offshore, at ONGC, the overall incharge of the offshore production operations of the company, has been lying vacant since the beginning of this month. In this case too, the vacancy for the post was first advertised on 21 May 2020, a year before the incumbent was due to superannuate.
ONGC, the largest state-owned firm by market capitalisation, is headed by the CMD, who is assisted by six functional directors, namely — director (Finance), director (Offshore), director (Onshore), director (Technical & Field Services), director (Exploration) and director (Human Resources), according to ONGC’s website.
ThePrint sent email queries to ONGC and PESB, which remained unanswered till the time of publishing this report.
The senior leadership gap at ONGC comes at a time when questions are being raised on whether multiple warnings issued by the Indian Coast Guard and the weather department were ignored by the company, its contractor Afcons and owner of the vessel Durmast, leading to the many deaths during Cyclone Tauktae.
The petroleum and natural gas ministry has now initiated an enquiry to determine if standard operating procedures were followed and whether there were any lapses and gaps in the system.
A retired ONGC CMD, who did not wish to be identified, told ThePrint that the delay in the appointments was due to the fact that the PESB was not functioning.
“The government has no business to be in business. The lag in appointments shows how the government treats the need for governance,” he said.
The official, however, did not comment on whether decision making could have been affected at ONGC due to the vacancies, pointing out that the sequence of events still remains to be clearly established before determining who is to be blamed for the incident.
New PESB team addressing India’s headless PSU problem
As of March end, top posts at 15 state-owned firms were lying vacant, data with the PESB showed.
One major reason for this was the fact that the PESB, tasked with helping the government fill up these vacancies, was also functioning without a chairperson and a member. In fact, the post of the chairperson was lying vacant since September 2020 when the then chief, Rajiv Kumar, was appointed election commissioner.
The government eventually filled this post in April 2021 with the appointment of Mallika Srinivasan, an industrialist who heads the Chennai-based Tractors and Farm Equipment Limited. Sailesh, an Indian Administrative Service officer, who only goes by one name, was appointed to fill the vacant member post.
Since their appointments, the PESB has filled 10 senior level posts including the top post in six state-owned firms.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)