ONGC spends on 'fun' as production plunges

Vol 26, PW 22 (19 Oct 23) People & Policy

ONGC insiders are raising concerns about extravagant expenditure on cultural events and celebrations when management is on a cost-cutting drive and production is plunging.

A well-placed source tells us that between April and July (2023), ONGC assets in Mumbai spent over Rs4cr ($480,000) on annual days and conferences. But nobody is breaking the rules as there are no rules on what constitutes valid event expenditure, he says.

"They don't break the rules," he says. "They just bend them in their favour or 'Bend it like Beckham' (a joking reference to the title of a popular British comedy film)".

What has shocked people more than the expenditure is that many events were not publicised on ONGCReports, an online platform for employees. On February 21 (2023), the government cleared Pankaj Kumar's appointment as ONGC's new director production, based in Mumbai, before he received an order to move to Delhi on July 11 (2023).

On May 30 (2023), an event management company invoiced ONGC Rs88 lakhs ($106,000) for the MH Asset annual day event. A fortnight earlier, an invoice for Rs26 lakhs ($31,500) was spent on mementoes alone for the same event.

Total cost: more than Rs1.14cr ($137,000). In the second week of July (2023), the 20th asset development board meeting for the MH Asset was held at the ONGC office in NBP Green Heights within the Bandra-Kurla Complex and at the Hotel Trident BKC.

Total cost: more than Rs30 lakhs ($36,000). And the list goes on.

In the last week of May (2023), the annual day event was held for the Uran plant. Total cost: a hefty Rs1.35cr ($162,000).

Here, the food bill alone was Rs55 lakhs ($66,000). Our source adds that dinner was at Tunga Regency, a premium hotel in Mumbai.

Earlier in April (2023), the Aarohan annual award event of the Bassein & Satellite asset cost the company Rs27 lakhs, while the Neelam & Heera asset development board meeting in July (2023) cost Rs22 lakhs. One event for a strategic production performance preview meeting held in Nasik (Maharashtra) this year cost Rs42 lakhs ($50,000).

Another source claims oil minister Hardeep Puri's visit to Mumbai to launch MOPU Sagar Samrat in Mumbai during a lavish event on January 29 (2023) also cost a staggering amount. One figure circulating internally is that ONGC spent Rs4cr ($480,000) to host Puri, but this could not be independently corroborated.