Suspended for graft: ONGC finance GM

Vol 27, PW 1 (11 Jan 24) People & Policy

ONGC has suspended GM finance and accounts Rajesh Agarwal for allegedly making early payments to vendors while posted in Gujarat.

As we reported in December (2023), ONGC's vigilance department in Ahmedabad began inquiries on December 6 (2023) into 36 transactions between July and October 2023 involving vendor payments made before the bills were due. "His (Agarwal's) suspension order was sent out at the end of December (2023)," says a well-placed source.

"Vigilance departments in the Mehsana and Ahmedabad assets are conducting the investigation." Agarwal had moved from Gujarat to Mumbai before his suspension for allegedly impersonating other officers by using their official online IDs to make the transactions.

He remains suspended until the vigilance department concludes its investigation. "Management knew about the entire affair since October (2023), but no action was taken until there was an exposé in the media (in Petrowatch)," claims another source.

"What's even more shocking is that the chairman's (AK Singh's) office was not informed about such a serious financial irregularity." Our source recalls similar ineptitude when ONGC investigated a fake medical prescription racket at its Jorhat asset and released the findings on November 15 (2022).

ONGC's head of corporate vigilance found that 27 retired employees and two serving employees had not requested any medical prescriptions. Yet, the company had been charged for their prescriptions by local pharmacies.

"Even then, the chairman's office was kept in the dark until it was revealed in the media (in Petrowatch), and news trickled out through the organisation," we learn. Singh took charge on December 7 (2022) but learned of the medical fraud much later, before the CBI launched an investigation in May 2023.

He is said to have expressed his annoyance about the lack of transparency in the early payments case to several middle-ranking officers during online interactions. Singh's anger is also reflected in the conspicuous absence of finance officers in the list of promotions to ED rank, announced on January 1 (2024).

Still unclear is whether ONGC will investigate vendors for their alleged involvement with the early payments.