Vol 3, PW 11 (23 Jun 99) Exploration & Production

AS Soni, Director Operations, ONGC, is a man who talks little.

In Bombay, Soni, works from a spacious eighth floor office (Room No. 804) in Vasundhara Bhavan, the company's Mumbai Regional Business Centre (MRBC) headquarters in the suburb of Bandra.

The teak panelled eighth floor is where all top MRBC officials sit, including local boss VK Sharma, Executive Director, MRBC. Soni comes from India's martial Sikh community.

He is a petroleum engineer trained at Moscow's Patrice Lumumba Friendship University. Soni joined ONGC in December 1966 as an Assistant Executive Engineer (Production) - the lowest grade in the company.

He has worked his way up through sheer graft. "I have been very lucky", he tells a correspondent for this report.

Soni, 59, hopes to retires from ONGC in July 2002. It is difficult for journalists to meet him.

The routine response being that the public relations office should suffice. He is of average height, average build and bespectacled.

While talking he takes off his glasses, leans back in his swivel chair, brings his fingers together and closes his eyes. His words are carefully chosen and he avoids specifics.

"You are asking too many details", he softly rebukes. Soni has a passionate distrust of the Indian bureaucracy.

"As long as they are in control, nothing will happen in India. Proposals are sent to them and by the time approvals come in, the ground situation has changed".

He resents the power bureaucrats have to initiate inquiries by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). "We always have to contend with possible CBI and CVC inquiries.

In such a situation very little moves". A shiny brass plate with Soni's name is nailed at the entrance to his office.

Other ONGC directors visiting Bombay use his office and have their telephone lines transferred here.