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A selection flawed from the beginning

The position of Director (Human Resources), India Oil Corporation Ltd. was announced by PESB, which reportedly more than a hundred had applied.

The virtual Interview, for about 12 candidates, is scheduled on 29.12.2023. Interestingly, the PESB call-up letter does not mention of any assistance of any senior official from IOCL while the Secretary of MoP&NG  has been requested to attend.

This is an out-of-the-ordinary incident. But then by now, all those who follow the Oil & Gas Sector,  are used to such surprises.

A Fortune 500 company like IOCL, gets a bye pass from its senior officials, for the selection of its own Director of HR. The irony of the entire situation cannot be missed. 

IndianOil Corporation Ltd. is today headed by a caretaker, contracted Chairman who has managed to cling on to his position much beyond his tenure. It’s never a good practice to have caretaker Chairmen managing affairs for a vital Organization like IOCL which not only is an asset to the economic backbone of India but has strategic importance from the viewpoint of Oil & Gas security for the nation.

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PESB is maybe bound by some bye-laws that it cannot invite a contracted Chairman to assist in the interview process, for the selection of a Director. One can understand that, but is it expedient that the same contracted Chairman, runs the day-to-day affairs of the company involving billions of dollars in spending?  If you cannot have him on the interview panel, as it is seems to be an important assignment, is it not mandatory that he should not be allowed to participate in other vital affairs of the IOCL as well?

The Company has been deliberately crippled by such policies which put individual interests above that of the company and the nation.  Further, having the Secretary assist the Selection committee seems to be an overkill and a climb-down for the senior most bureaucrat in the domain. Normally a Secretary is involved in the selection of a Chairman of PSU. 

The position of  Director (HR) in any PSU is of critical importance, while he is a board member he reports to the Chairman. From Recruitment to Employee Relations, Salary Management and CSR he has enormous powers to lay down policies and also over look the spending of company funds.

The massive economic power, and proximity to the Ministry and the Minister which a Director(HR) has   makes the position attractive to many aspirants. This fact stands proven by the number of applicants who applied for the position in IOCL. After the Chairman its Dir(HR) of a PSU who can mould or break the human workforce.

PSUs today provide many career opportunities and help in the reduction of unemployment in the country. Its inclusive and engagement policies make for ideal working conditions. Although the salaries may be lower than many private enterprises but there is less pressure (No 70 Hrs compulsory working) and pink slips (at the merest hint of lessened profits). 

Therefore, the selection of Dir(HR) needs to be done keeping the critical nature of the position in mind. But in the instant case, even before the selection is done, doubts and questions are being raised in the Oil & Gas circles. The arbitrary ways in which extensions are granted to some while others are not allowed to even continue to their date of superannuation and are summarily removed; speaks volumes on the way senior management in PSUs are treated.

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The constant terror which some board members face while others seem to bask in the blessings of the powers to be does not make for leadership excellence.

NewsIP has always maintained that corruption in PSUs starts with the selection process. The person selected may not be the best professionally but usually possesses qualities to do the bidding of powers to be, even at the cost of the overall good of the company.

The selection process of PESB leaves much to be desired. Even after the Covid ended, interviews have been reduced to a farce and done through Video Conferencing. All management experts, psychologists and business leaders know the efficacy of face to face interviews. One only prays that a Bot or AI-assisted Robots do not carry out the interview process next time.
NewsIP has been bringing to its readers some of the vagaries’ of PESB and the selection process, in the past as well. Like the proverbial Ceaser’s wife, the selection should be able to stand up to the strictest scrutiny, but here even before the process has started there are crucial questions which have come up. NewsIp has been recommending that the selection of Director and above positions in PSUs to be done  by UPSC to avoid controversies and ensure the best talent gets selected, without fear or favour. 

One does not hear of Civil Services interviews being conducted virtually by Video Conferencing. If PESB is unable to carry out the face to face interviews they should readily hand over the assignment to UPSC. 

The mockery of established norms and processes have a debilitating impact on the employees as well. Most then feel that it’s not merit which counts but the favours of the powers to be which can further their career. In such circumstances, most refrain from putting the best professionally leading to a situation where the company gets hollow from within. Sarcasm and an attitude of diffidence is often noticed in much of the staff which when faced with challenges, just wilts away. India is poised to become an economic superpower. Also, it is confronted with an election year and one will have to wait and watch how the PSUs will fare after the elections are over. But in the meanwhile, these sterling enterprises should not be allowed to lose their intrinsic value.

The logic is simple, if all the PSUs were to be sold after elections, why reduce their market price? The way selections are made for top positions in PSUs will no doubt impact their performance and consequently bids in market. For the benefit of a few the entire workforce and system should not be held to ransom.  

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