Friday, February 4, 2011

how to influence appointment of chairman in state owned companies

A stunning story is unfolding on how two forged letters have virtually nixed the appointment of the chairman of ONGC, a state-owned oil and gas company that ranks 413 in the Fortune 500 list of global companies, and gives out contracts worth Rs 10,000 crore annually. Lobbying for the top post was not unexpected. But what has happened is unprecedented.

Just as the government headhunter, the Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB), went through its layered selection process and selected ONGC director (offshore) Sudhir Vasudeva for the post after interviewing the shortlisted 13 candidates, two letters reached the Central Vigilance Commission leveling serious allegations against Vasudeva. The CVC baulked and put the appointment on hold.

It now transpires that both the letters are bogus — crude forgeries. One is purported to have been written by CPM member of Parliament Tapan Sen, a well-regarded trade union leader, and the other by ex-MP A Mannan Hossain, again from the CPM. In one case the address is false, and in the other, an ex-MP is sought to be passed off as an MP. And still, no one saw through all this.

That is, until information about Sen`s letter reached Sen himself. The MP was incensed. ``I have given in writing to the petroleum ministry that the letter is forged,`` Sen told TOI. Hossain was astounded: ``I`m learning about the letter from you,`` he told this correspondent. Despite Sen`s letter, the oil ministry, now under a new minister, seemed in no mood to take chances — on Wednesday it appointed a caretaker chairman.

The PESB had selected Vasudeva on October 19 last year and named R K Tyagi, chairman of helicopter firm Pawan Hans, as the second choice. The interim choice is neither of the two.

When contacted, Sen said: ``Not only the petroleum ministry, I have also informed the CVC that the letter is forged. The policy of our party is clear. We always prefer internal candidates as PSU heads. But this government is pursuing a policy of bringing outsiders. We had protested because the government wanted to bring an outsider when the outgoing ONGC chairman R S Sharma`s appointment had come up.``

Hossain also said he has not written the letter. ``I am not even an MP in the present Lok Sabha. How could I write a letter on an MP`s letterhead in July 2010 (the date on the letter) when I was not an MP?`` he said.

The forgeries have glaring giveaways. The National Emblem in Sen`s letterhead, for instance, is a colour photocopy and not embossed as is the case. His Delhi residence address is given as 601 V P House, Rafi Marg. The fact is that the building does not have a sixth floor. Sen lives in flat No. 501 of the building.

In Hossain`s case, the letterhead says ``Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha`` under his name and also lists the House panels he was in. The fact is that he is not an MP. The letters list out several complaints that are clearly aimed at implicating Vasudeva and former chairman Sharma. The allegations pertain to contract awards. In fact, these cases were probed by the Chief Vigilance Officer and Vasudeva was given a clean chit.

But still, the CVC overruled its own rule that bars it from taking cognizance of complaints coming to it after six months of a post being advertised, and took note of the forgeries while seeking clarifications from the ministry.