After five years Subir Raha is shown the door

Vol 10, PW 3 (01 Jun 06) People & Policy

It was an unexpected end to a suspense-filled day on 25th May when the oil ministry announced that ONGC director finance RS Sharma would take over as interim CMD to replace Subir Raha who stepped down the previous day.

Raha, aged 58, was expected to stay on till 31st August 2008 and retirement at 60. Refusal to extend his term is unprecedented.

All previous PSU chairmen have continued in office until they retire. Rahas dismissal speaks volumes about the bad blood between himself and everyone in the ministry except secretary MS Srinivasan.

Raha is believed to have been instrumental in securing Srinivasans appointment as secretary and would have expected a similar gesture. Srinivasan tried his best, arguing for an immediate three-month extension for Raha, but was overruled, and is believed to have sunk into a deep depression ever since.

To his supporters Raha was the dynamic, result-oriented, go-getter and workaholic who transformed ONGC from a plodding dinosaur to a global giant with interests across the energy chain. His detractors, among them former oil minister Mani Shankar Aiyar and former oil secretary Sushil Tripathi, saw him as a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur.

They accused him of straying from ONGCs core E&P business into peripheral and unrelated areas. Worse, they ensured he would not get an extension.

On his last day in office Raha wrote a stinging letter to oil minister Murli Deora attacking Tripathi. Raha became CMD on 25th May 2001, replacing the easy-going Bikash Bora.

After a brief honeymoon, his relationship with the ministry plummeted. It began with his decision to buy a controlling stake in sick refiner MRPL.

Raha saw it as a logical step to transform ONGC into an integrated oil company like Shell, BP and Exxon. But the ministry suspected his motives and repeatedly rubbished future proposals to set up autonomous ONGC subsidiaries with minimal government control.

Finally, Raha fought a public battle with Aiyar over the appointment of two government directors to the ONGC board: VK Sibal and MS Srinivasan. Raha won, forcing Aiyar into a humiliating retreat.

This, above all, sealed his fate.