The petroleum ministry, after an unsuccessful attempt at finding a ‘suitable (technocrat) candidate’ to head one of the most important offices in the oil and gas sector, that of the directorate general of hydrocarbons (DGH), decided to fill the post with Gujarat-cadre 1985-batch IAS officer Atanu Chakraborty. Chakraborty has been serving as the managing director of Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation Limited (GSPC) and is therefore privy to the technicalities of the oil and gas sector.
The order was issued on Wednesday appointing Chakraborty as the DGH, officials in the petroleum ministry told FE. Chakraborty, 55, will hold the post for the next four years. The position was vacant since the superannuation of B N Talukdar in July 2015. Till now, Ajay Prakash Sawhney, additional secretary in ministry of petroleum and natural gas, is in additional charge of DGH.
After the petroleum ministry came out with an advertisement for the post, eight candidates have submitted their applications. Of them, only three were “eligible”. The post of director general is of the rank of additional secretary in the government. Though the three applicants met the technical eligibility criteria, they are currently in the position of general managers in public sector companies, lacking the seniority to be appointed as DGH.
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 were worried if government could appoint a bureaucrat as DGH. Because, 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 hand-picked 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.