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  Opinion   Columnists  11 Jan 2023  Dilip Cherian | Winds of change: ONGC to scout renewables now

Dilip Cherian | Winds of change: ONGC to scout renewables now

Love them, hate them ignore them at national peril, is the babu guarantee and Dilip’s belief. Share significant babu escapades
Published : Jan 12, 2023, 12:09 am IST
Updated : Jan 12, 2023, 12:09 am IST

The government appointed Arun Kumar Singh, who had earlier headed BPCL, as the chairperson of ONGC.

ONGC to explore new businesses such as renewable energy. (Representational image: PTI)
 ONGC to explore new businesses such as renewable energy. (Representational image: PTI)

Winds of change are blowing through the state-owned Oil and Gas Corporation (ONGC). Early last month, the government appointed Arun Kumar Singh, who had earlier headed BPCL, as the chairperson of ONGC. Apparently, this is the first instance of a 60-year-old retiree being appointed as the head of a blue-chip government-owned firm. The move has also promoted the government to initiate a board revamp and a decision to look beyond oil and gas and explore new businesses such as renewable energy.

Sources have informed DKB that ONGC is merging two director posts to create a new position of director for strategy and corporate affairs. Further, a post of director, production, has been created after merging director, onshore, and director, offshore. This post will come into effect from March 1, 2023, and reportedly go to Pankaj Kumar, current offshore director.

The goal is to increase operational synergies and focus on oil and gas production. Meanwhile, the new corporate affairs director will focus on new businesses such as renewable energy ventures, downstream activities like oil refining and petrochemicals, and LNG, in addition to marketing oil and gas at the best rates. Besides, the new director will be responsible for IT, communication services, safety, health, environment, and business development, among other tasks. So far, these have been addressed in turn by the board directors.

Babus discuss future roadmap

It’s time for the babus to deliver. With nine crucial Assembly elections due this year in the run-up to 2024’s big one, the Centre is increasingly trying to focus on governance and development issues. Obviously, a lot will depend on the government’s performance which has been tepid so far, with bursts of bold policy initiatives but long periods of semi-stasis. Clearly, this has to change.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised this during his remarks at the 2nd National Conference of chief secretaries last week. The conference was aimed at rapid and sustained economic growth in partnership with states. Some observers were surprised that Mr Modi not only attended but actually chaired the conference for two days, choosing to address some 200 top babus comprising representatives of the Central ministries, chief secretaries and other senior officials from the states and UTs rather than hold discussions with state chief ministers, as PM’s normally do.

The agenda of the conference was decided after more than 150 consultative meetings over the past three months between various ministries, NITI Aayog, states and domain experts. The thrust was on MSMEs, infrastructure and investments, women’s empowerment, health and nutrition, and skill development among others. Also on the table were India’s geopolitical challenges, G20, the role of the states and emerging technologies.

Mr Modi urged the babus to aim for improving the lives of people and strengthen development initiatives. Similar exhortations are likely to pick up pace as the polls draw nearer.

Ex-babus installed on NDTV’s board

Several babus on the verge of retirement half expect to be re-employed, or they seek it elsewhere, mostly in the private sector, and often get it too. Some, however, are cherry-picked to add heft to corporate boards, usually for the special expertise that they bring to the table.

The recent appointment of Aman Kumar Singh, currently group head, corporate brand custodian, for the Adani Group and a former principal secretary to Chhattisgarh’s chief minister, and Sunil Kumar, former chief secretary of Chhattisgarh, as non-executive independent directors at NDTV, set off quite a few murmurs in Delhi.

Both were powerful babus in the former Raman Singh government with Mr Singh, a former IRS officer, considered an expert in finance and planning, while Mr Kumar headed the state administration. They bring rich experience and contacts in government and know how to navigate smoothly through its myriad rules and regulations. Of course, the incentives of the private sector far outdo the charms of babudom.

The mighty Adani Group, owned by India’s richest man, is a newbie in the media sector, even after the recent strategic acquisition of a major television outfit like NDTV. Clearly, both ex-babus have been installed on the NDTV board not for their media expertise but for the advice and counsel they can provide to Mr Gautam Adani in other areas of his business. It’s left to us to join the dots.

Tags: oil and natural gas corp (ongc), adani group, ndtv, renewable energy