Vajpayee blocks Chandra's extension at DGH

Vol 7, PW 15 (08 Oct 03) People & Policy

Suspense over the future of Dr Avinash Chandra, head of the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, came to an abrupt end last week when it emerged that he would not, after all, receive an extension as Director General.

Until the last minute, all indications were that Dr Chandra, aged 58, would receive a two-year extension following an oil ministry recommendation to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet earlier in the year. Ministry logic argued that Dr Chandra should be allowed to retire at 60 like other scientists working in government.

Hopes brightened when deputy Prime Minister LK Advani agreed and signed the proposal. Only prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's mandatory approval remained.

But on 30th September, Vajpayee told oil minister Ram Naik he would not be extending Dr Chandra's tenure. Within the oil ministry, there was shock and surprise at the decision.

Insiders tell PETROWATCH the powerful scientist lobby objected to any suggestion Dr Chandra could be described as a 'scientist', arguing he was only a technocrat and not eligible for an extension. Scientists said the proposal would set an unwelcome precedent.

Stung by this opposition, the oil ministry drafted another proposal for Dr Chandra to be re-employed on a two-year contract as Director General from 1st October. This was the proposal on the table before Vajpayee and Naik on the morning of 30th September.

Sadly, Vajpayee rejected it outright. "Even this would have set a precedent," reveals a source.

"If you adopt this for one person, you would be hard pressed to deny it to others." Contacted by PETROWATCH, Naik confirmed Dr Chandra's departure but said he would be retained as an adviser at the DGH. "Dr Chandra will be appointed as consultant to the DGH," said Naik.

"As a consultant he will advise the ministry on NELP, CBM and other issues." But as a consultant, Dr Chandra will not have the executive powers he enjoyed earlier as DGH director general. Adds Naik: "We will soon begin the search for a new director general.

A search committee will have to be set up." Naik said the temporary absence of a director general would not affect work at the DGH. "Somebody will officiate as director general till we find a new head.

Work will go on."