A day after his suggested candidate was denied a post-retirement extension, Oil Minister M Veerappa Moily on Thursday defended seeking extension for Sudhir Vasudeva as Chairman of ONGC, saying he was not backing a tainted or corrupt person.
"A non-issue has been made a big issue.
“Everything has been done in a transparent manner.
“Nothing has been hidden," he said in his first comments after government appointed Dinesh K Sarraf as the new head of ONGC, the nation's most profitable firm.
Sarraf replaces Vasudeva, who turned 60 on Tuesday and is due to superannuate on Friday.
Moily said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had signed on papers appointing Sarraf as new Chairman of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation on February 25, a day before it was alleged that an attempt was being made to bypass Central Vigilance Commission in getting Vasudeva an extension.
"There is no u-turn...Don't do dishonour to him (Vasudeva). . . he is not a tainted person and not that we have hushed up things.
"He has not been indicted by vigilance department in any case so far and complaints pending are fresh or new ones that came after we proposed his extension," he said.
Moily said a total of 19 cases or complaints were made against Vasudeva, of which the vigilance department has dismissed nine.
"While technically 10 complaints are open, many of them were received recently," he said suggesting ‘aggrieved parties’ may have raised them.
Giving out chronology of events that began with advertising for the post of Chairman and Managing Director of ONGC in March last year, Moily said Vasudeva's appointment as head of ONGC was delayed by 8 months because of delay in vigilance clearance.
"Naturally, it is expected that it (delay) will be made up," he said, adding that he had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on November 2, 2013 seeking one-year extension for Vasudeva.
Simultaneously, the process of selecting new Chairman continued with government head-hunters PESB identifying Sarraf, who at present is the Managing Director of ONGC's overseas arm, ONGC Videsh Ltd.
Sarraf's name was cleared by anti-corruption watchdog CVC on December 24 and Moily approved of his candidature two days later.
On December 31, a proposal for appointing Sarraf as new head of ONGC was sent to the Department of Personnel and Training, he said.
Moily quoted Oil Secretary Vivek Rae's comments on the file approving Sarraf's candidature that "the proposal (to make him Chairman) will be effective from March 1, 2014 or subsequent date, depending on whether extension for one-year is approved by ACC (Appointments Committee of Cabinet) for Vasudeva."
The Ministry, he said, had forwarded to ACC a proposal containing two sets of options -- give Vasudeva an extension or appoint Sarraf.
"DoPT was kept informed about vigilance issues," he said.
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet on Wednesday approved appointment of Sarraf as Chairman and Managing of ONGC.
The appointment of Sarraf, 56, comes even as Moily was keen on getting Vasudeva a one-year post-retirement extension on the plea that ONGC needed his presence to complete ongoing strategic initiatives.
While Sarraf had all clearances including from CVC, Vasudeva did not have approval of anti-corruption watchdog CVC which on February 10 had told the Ministry that there were ‘a total number of six complaints/cases against Vasudeva which are pending in the ministry and are yet to be taken to their logical conclusion’.
Moily said his ministry had on February 14 had written to DoPT to ‘enclose details of vigilance matter be placed before ACC as deemed appropriate.’
"DoPT was all-along aware of it (vigilance issues)," he said.
Following the CVC letter indicating pending cases against Vasudeva, Oil Secretary Vivek Rae noted on files that it was ‘clearly not possible to obtain vigilance clearance for Vasudeva in the next few days.
‘The only alternative is to grant him extension, pending vigilance clearance, in case ACC deems it fit to do so’.
Sarraf was Director (Finance) in ONGC before moving to ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) in September, 2011.
He transformed OVL into an aggressive overseas firm.
OVL, which since inception has invested $17 billion in 32 assets in 15 countries till 2011, has struck over $11 billion worth deals under Sarraf.
Sarraf holds Master's in Commerce from the University of Delhi. He is also a member of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India and the Institute of Company Secretaries of India.
As head of ONGC, his immediate task would be to raise the stagnant oil and gas output and aggressively look for more reserves.
Image: M Veerappa Moily