Government-led panel to appoint CGSB chair after eight months

Eight months after its headhunter failed to find a suitable candidate for the top job at the CGSB, the government will deploy a sparingly used committee approach to find a new chairman and chief executive of India’s top producer of oil and gas.

Most board-level appointments to public sector companies are made on the basis of recommendations from the public company selection board (PESB), but the government’s headhunter in June had found no last year one of nine candidates, including two serving IAS officers, for head of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

“Bearing in mind the strategic importance and the vision for the company and its future, the board of directors did not recommend any candidate and decided to form a search committee,” PESB had said in a notice after interviews on June 5, 2021.

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

“The Cabinet Appointments Committee (ACC) has approved the selection for the position of President and CEO of the CGSB through a search and selection committee,” an official order read.

The panel will include the chairman of the PESB, the petroleum secretary and B Ashok, former chairman of the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), he said, adding that Ashok is the prominent outside expert on the panel.

The ACC also endorsed “the consideration of Central Government officers, including those from the Union Armed Forces and All India Services, for the post on an immediate absorption basis”.

In accordance with practice, the PESB recommends a name for a position at board level at least 3 months before the position becomes vacant. However, in the case of ONGC, the PESB advertised and interviewed candidates after Shashi Shanker’s retirement on March 31, 2021.

The committee process for appointing members of the PSU Board of Directors has been used very little in the past. In 2016, the current NTPC Chairman, Gurdeep Singh, was appointed by the way. The last appointment using the route was that of Sanjeev Kumar as Chairman of Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL).

PESB had, on June 5, 2021, auditioned nine of the 10 candidates who had applied for the position of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ONGC. Those interviewed included senior officials Avinash Joshi and Niraj Verma.

Pomila Jaspal, Chief Financial Officer of Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL), and Om Prakash Singh, CGSB’s Director of Technology and Field Services, were the other prominent names who were interviewed, as per the opinion of the PESB.

The two bureaucrats are part of the 1994 batch of IAS officers belonging to the Assam-Meghalaya cadre.

Others interviewed by PESB were ONGC chief executives Sandeep Gupta, Pankaj Kumar and Omkar Nath Gyani, ONGC additional chief executive Anand Gupta and Container Corporation of India chief financial officer Manoj Kumar Dubey.

Financial Director of Security Printing and Minting Corp of India Ltd, Ajay Agarwal, who had applied for the job, did not show up for the interview.

It is the second time in a decade and a half that a suitable candidate has not been found among those who applied.

In August 2006, PESB selected RS Sharma as head of the company but the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in February 2007 vetoed his appointment as they wanted the selection process to be broadened by inviting candidates from private sector.

In June 2007, the PESB again selected Sharma and his candidacy was this time approved by the Cabinet Nominations Committee (ACC).

While a replacement on the PSU board is often selected before the incumbent retires, the PESB held no interviews for nearly seven months because its chairman was not named. In April 2021, the government appointed Mallika Srinivasan, Chairman and Managing Director of Tractors and Farm Equipment (TAFE) Ltd, as the new PESB Chairperson.

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

Following Shanker’s retirement, Subhash Kumar, chief financial officer and longest-serving director on the ONGC board, was given the additional role of chairman and chief executive.

Kumar retired on December 31, 2021 and Alka Mittal, Director of Human Resources, ONGC, received an additional charge. She will retire in August. PTI ANZ MR

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