ONGC faces 'caste discrimination' charges

Vol 25, PW 6 (24 Feb 22) People & Policy

ONGC interim chairman Alka Mittal is facing difficult questions about alleged caste discrimination in the company's recruitment and promotions process.

On March 9 (2022), Mittal will appear before the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) at Lok Nayak Bhavan in Delhi. On February 16 (2022), the NCSC directed Mittal to appear before NCSC vice-chairman Arun Halder following a petition by NG Patel, general secretary of the All India SC & ST (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Employees Welfare Association at ONGC.

Currently posted at the Agartala-based Tripura asset, Patel sent a similar petition to NCSC's sister body, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST). Patel accuses ONGC of not announcing promotions for disadvantaged groups at ONGC due for promotion in 2016-17.

He said in 2020, ONGC announced promotions for underprivileged groups who became eligible in 2014-15; in 2021, it announced promotions for those qualified in 2017-18 but skipped those due for promotion in 2016-17 entirely. According to an ONGC source, the company employs around 7500 people from disadvantaged backgrounds or 26% of its 28,635 employees.

According to the minutes of a February 4 hearing: "The petitioner (Patel) informed the commission that ONGC management has changed the recruitment and promotion policy by hiding facts and manipulation of merits by resort to the practice of non-transparent manner and violation of DOPT (Department of Personnel & Training) orders." Patel alleges that a list detailing seniority or experience shows more employees from disadvantaged backgrounds eligible for promotions than ONGC has officially released.

ONGC said meetings could not take place during the hearing because of Covid-19. In its defence, ONGC said it provides equal opportunities to all irrespective of caste, creed or social status.

But a source tells us the petition was "the last resort" after Patel's letter to former interim ONGC chairman Subhash Kumar on November 30 (2021) received a less than satisfactory response. He stresses that concerns are unrelated to India's controversial affirmative action programme reserving employment quotas for disadvantaged communities.

"Do not confuse our fight for rightful promotions with reservations," he stresses. "We are not asking for reservations; we are professionals."

Appointed ONGC human resources director on November 27 (2018), Mittal is well placed to answer the commission's questions; Mittal took additional charge as interim ONGC chairman on January 1 (2022).