Oil ministry running on empty on talent front

The petroleum ministry is facing an acute problem of lack of enough experienced hands

The petroleum ministry, which oversees the hydrocarbon sector that witnesses billions of dollars of investments and projects of big corporates such as ONGC, Reliance Industries, Essar Oil and Cairn India, is facing an acute problem of lack of enough experienced hands.

Since the NDA government come to power, five director-level officers including Partha S Das, Subhashis Panda, Alok Tripathi and Nilkanth S Avadh have been transferred out of the ministry but the posts have remained unfilled for months now. Also, there has not been a prompt replacement for Neeraj Mittal, who was joint secretary marketing overseeing the entire direct benefit transfer for LPG (DBTL) scheme. Another joint secretary, UP Singh, who was looking after exploration, has been elevated to additional secretary but still continues to handle the same portfolio, for want of adequate subordinate staff. The post of joint secretary, exploration, too has been lying vacant for quite some time.

Sources said that the every joint secretary in the ministry is currently handling at least two verticals and are overburdened. In many cases, the director’s post, immediately below the joint secretary’s, is vacant. This means there is no supporting staff to assist the joint secretary while preparing files. For instance, the posts of directors handling gas pricing, LPG, supply and pricing, exploration-III, among others, are vacant. “Many a time, there are no officers to prepare even minutes of the meetings,” said a source, on condition of anonymity, adding that senior officers are therefore relying on section officers to get the jobs done, which sometimes lead to undermining the quality of the work.

Recently, Sanjay Sudhir, an Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer, was posted to the ministry and he is expected to take up the role of joint secretary, international cooperation, while another IAS officer of the 1995 batch, Ashutosh Jindal, would look after the marketing portfolio.

Currently, Ajay Prakash Sawhney, who is the additional secretary at the petroleum ministry, holds additional charge of upstream regulator Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH). The DGH post has been vacant since BN Talukdar’s term ended on June 30. The government is yet to even advertise for the post. Earlier, the petroleum ministry mooted the proposal to open up the post for personnel from the private sector. However, the proposal has been dropped.

The appointment of bureaucrats is looked after by the department of personnel and training. The positions of joint secretary and above are cleared by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-headed Appointments Committee of the Cabinet.

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