Another victory for Subir Raha in battle with ministry

Vol 9, PW 17 (01 Dec 05) People & Policy
     

Subir Raha has won another round in his battle with the oil ministry.

On 21st November, officials confirmed the appointment of special secretary and Raha-favourite MS Srinivasan to the ONGC board to replace joint secretary exploration and Raha-adversary Sunjoy Joshi. Srinivasans appointment will be short.

Word has it he will soon be promoted to full secretary and transferred to another ministry, at which point he will have to step down as ONGC director. Yet, his temporary replacement of Joshi at ONGC is hugely significant.

In public, officials downplay the appointment, saying it is routine, in line with government policy. But in private, everyone accepts that in forcing Joshi off the board, Raha is bigger than Aiyar.

Undeniably, Rahas relationship with Joshi is strained, to say the least. Joshi regularly questioned ONGCs performance and blocked proposals from Raha that the government considered irrational.

In September, simmering tension between the two burst into the open when Raha claimed intimidation by a certain joint secretary (later identified as Joshi) in the ministrys messy and unsuccessful attempt to appoint DGH boss and upstream regulator VK Sibal to the board. It started as a fight of principles between the ministry and Raha over the appointment of Sibal, reveals an ONGC source.

But it became intensely personal. Raha later accused the oil ministry (read: Joshi) of treating ONGC like a government department and threatened to resign unless he got his way which he did.

Rahas opponents agree ONGC is not a government department but stress that it is 74% government-owned, giving bureaucrats on the board a legitimate right to raise questions, particularly over its core activity E&P. Raha is a CMD appointed by the government, we hear.

He is not the government. Government officials argue in the interest of the company and will continue to do so.

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