Behuria extension as IOC chief uncertain

Vol 13, PW 15 (14 Jan 10) People & Policy

Uncertainty is growing over the future of Sarthak Behuria who completes five years as IndianOil chairman on March 1, aged 58.

No advertisement has appeared on the Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB) website for a replacement, leading many to speculate the oil ministry will grant him a two-year extension till March 3, 2012, when he hits 60 and mandatory retirement. Lending weight to the extension theory is a PESB letter sent on November 4 last year to oil secretary RS Pandey recommending that Behuria remain IOC chairman for another two years.

But some ask why the oil ministry is taking so long to approve the PESB proposal Especially as oil minister Murli Deora is a close personal friend – the two men frequently play bridge together. In public, IOC sources say they want Behuria to get an extension but in private they admit it might not happen because of two major incidents that marred his stint as IOC chief.

In January 2009, staff at state-owned ONGC, Oil India, IOC and Bharat Petroleum went on an all-India strike seeking higher pay. Behuria angered the Prime Minister’s Office at the time, which accused him of supporting the strikers.

Worse, in October last year, an IOC product storage depot in Jaipur caught fire. Once again, Behuria was blamed.

Has Deora abandoned his friend and one-time bridge partner “They don’t meet as often as they did,â€‌ confirms a source. But another source says Deora attended Behuria’s daughter’s wedding last December, an indication they are still on good terms.

Others believe Behuria will make a last ditch attempt to salvage the situation and win an extension. “Behuria knows people in (the ruling) Congress (party),â€‌ says a source.

“The PMO cannot overrule a directive from (UPA chairperson) Sonia Gandhi.â€‌