The petroleum ministry is unable to find a ‘suitable candidate’ to head one of the most important offices in the oil and gas sector, that of the directorate general of hydrocarbons (DGH), even after several months of search. The position has been vacant since the superannuation of B N Talukdar in July 2015. Currently, Ajay Prakash Sawhney, additional secretary in ministry of petroleum and natural gas, is in additional charge of DGH.
Sources told FE that eight candidates have submitted their application for the post. Of them, only three are “eligible”. The post of director general is of the rank of additional secretary in the government. Though the three applicants meet the technical eligibility criteria, they are currently in th position of general managers in public sector companies, lacking the seniority to be appointed as DGH.
“It may not be fair to put one of them as director general, which is of the rank of additional secretary,” a senior official, privy to the development said.
DGH has been one of the most sought-after regulatory assignments. The DGH looks after the multi-billion dollar exploration programmes of companies such as ONGC, RIL, BP, Cairn India, GSPC and Essar Oil, among others. Its nod is mandatory for all field development plans that is needed for explorers to monetise a hydrocarbon asset. The regulator’s opinion also prevails on whether or not to extend production sharing contract and it is mandated to approve costs and acceptance of declaration of commerciality.
Petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan had proposed to open the post of DGH for candidates from the private sector. However, his proposal could not sail through other departments and was finally turned down. Following this, the petroleum ministry is forced to scrutinise candidates from central or state governments, recognised research institutions, PSUs, semi-government and autonomous statutory organisations.
Industry watchers do not rule out that the government may appoint a bureaucrat as DGH, eventually. However, it would not fit the bill, as the regulator needs to have technical knowledge of geological and oil and gas exploration. Traditionally, DGH has been headed by a technocrat. However, in June 2012, the then petroleum minister S Jaipal Reddy for the first time handpicked Rajiv Nayan Choubey, a 1981-batch IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre. Reddy’s move was unprecedented as it lacked clarity on Choubey’s selection without the post being advertised.