Oil sector ‘regulator’ needs a pipeline for talent

The DGH is looking to end the ‘revolving door’ culture

It may be time for the Directorate-General of Hydrocarbons to create its own cadre to avoid conflicts in its role

The clichéd stereotypes about government offices – as stuffy, overstaffed bureaucratic mazes – seem to slip-slide away at the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, the nodal body tasked with overseeing many important aspects of the oil and petroleum sector.

That’s because although the DGH, which was set up in 1993, has an approved strength of 220, it has only about 150 people, many of whom are on deputation from public sector undertakings. It additionally has eight consultants with expertise in different fields. Given the expanding ambit of the DGH over these two decades and more, it is actually understaffed.

Set up at a time when private players were entering the oil exploration business in India and there was a need for a supervisory body, the DGH has no cadre of its own. It depends on staff on deputation from the National Oil Companies (NOCs), primarily ONGC and Oil India. But since these companies are themselves into oil and gas exploration, this raises questions of the DGH’s independence.

Over time, the DGH’s responsibilities have expanded. Besides monitoring the production in discovered fields, it is tasked with implementing the New Exploration Licensing Policy and opening up new unexplored areas and looking at futuristic hydrocarbon energy resources.

There have been repeated demands for the creation of a permanent cadre for the DGH or to allow it to recruit independently. But nothing has changed.

Conflict of interestOf all the concerns, it is the potential conflict of interest that worries industry players the most. Since the DGH oversees business across the public and private sectors, the fact that its staff is drawn from ONGC and OIL raises uncomfortable questions. “Remember, the DGH has access to all our data,” says an oil explorer from a large private sector company.

A former Petroleum & Natural Gas Ministry official says, “The system of rotation is unhealthy and ill-serves the independence of the DGH.”

Till recently, even the DGH chief was drawn from NOCs. Rajiv Nayan Choubey became the first bureaucrat without a background in the energy sector to head this upstream technical arm of the Ministry. Now, another career bureaucrat, Atanu Chakraborty, heads the organisation, but the Gujarat cadre IAS officer has served as Managing Director at Gujarat State Petroleum Corp.

So, is creating a cadre a solution or should the DGH get geological experts, petroleum engineers and others as consultants on market-based remuneration, as opposed to the PSU-style perks and incentives they are offered currently?

Niche, technical workThose in the DGH say that a cadre can be built only when the organisational strength is large and the work is of a generic nature. DGH work, on the other hand, is highly technical, and it has tough regulatory duties of monitoring exploration and production contracts. Considering this, the DGH can perform better if it has the flexibility to attract talent from diverse sources, admits a senior DGH official.

Deputations from PSUs typically last three years, extendable to five. How can people who come in for just a few years take complex decisions with long-lasting impact?

Senior DGH officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledge that short stints don’t engender a learning attitude. “Organisational memory is critical,” they say. Currently, officers expend the initial years of deputation in learning, but invariably, by the time they are trained, their deputation period has wound down.

There have been suggestions to appoint officers for long tenures with DGH and facilitate an assembly line for grooming talent.

DGH officials, however, dismiss concerns about potential conflict in their roles, noting that the responsibilities of officers on deputation are vastly different from their work in the PSUs.

So, why can’t the DGH hire people from the private sector? Earlier, expertise in exploration and production was only available with NOCs, but today the private sector too is talent-rich.

They don’t come cheap, but as a bureaucrat points out, the DGH has hired private sector experts in the past. “What draws experts to the DGH is a high level of motivation to serve with utmost integrity,” he says.

“If an individual is able to combine his knowledge and capability with organisational goals, the DGH will go the extra mile to hire and retain him,” he asserts.

Going forward, the fight for talent will only get more challenging if the DGH does not resolve its staffing issues one way or another.


View original post on Hindu Business line: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/specials/the-babu-seat-middle-piece/article9459550.ece

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