ONGC prepares to abandon northeast policy

Vol 26, PW 10 (04 May 23) People & Policy

Arun Singh can expect stiff opposition from ONGC employees to his proposal to extend staff postings in the northeast beyond three years and remove fiscal and HR incentives.

On the morning of April 10 (2023), ONGC's executive committee led by chairman Singh held a video conference with managers at the Assam and Tripura assets to discuss changes to ONGC's northeast policy for staff postings. Singh wants a new approach in place by next year (2024), which matches the government's aim of removing incentives for public sector workers working in the once but no longer volatile northeast.

Singh announced he wants a panel of senior experienced northeast-based officers to devise a plan to change the policy. "No panel meeting has been held yet," a source tells this report.

"But anyway, it's not widely known that he's set up this panel." Under existing rules, ONGC officers must serve at least three years in one or more northeast assets: Tripura, Silchar, Nazira or Jorhat.

Given the region's challenges, many at ONGC describe them as 'punishment' postings. But as compensation, employees can work for two weeks in the field, followed by 14 days off.

All ONGC northeast staff also benefit from a special Quarterly Travel Allowance (QTA) every three months to visit home and family elsewhere in India. "If the chairman has his way, all this will go," adds another source.

"Or, at least, it will change significantly." In a separate online address to all ONGC employees on April 20 (2023), Singh repeated his intention to change the northeast policy.

Included in his presentation was a slide entitled Thrust on NE, explaining why the outdated policy needs to go. The reasons cited were that the northeast's infrastructure and working environment have improved in line with the government's NE Vision 2030; that connectivity from northeast India to major Indian cities have improved; and that the government has reviewed incentives granted to IAS, IPS, and IFS officers as well as to central government Group 'A' service officers in the region.

Equally important, but not mentioned by Singh, are the savings ONGC will make on the high cost of transfers, which have a ripple effect through the company every three years as employees shuffle across India. Subir Raha introduced the mandatory fixed term in the northeast as chairman from 2001-06 when insurgency across the region was at its peak.

At the time, many ONGC officers refused to serve in an area prone to armed conflict and civil unrest.