SC Seeks Centre’s Stand On A Plea Challenging The Appointment Of Sambit Patra And Shashi Shanker In ONGC

SC Seeks Centre’s Stand On A Plea Challenging The Appointment Of Sambit Patra And Shashi Shanker In ONGC

The Supreme Court on  Monday sought to know Centre’s stand on allegations of arbitrary and malafide appointment of BJP Spokesperson Sambit Patra as the non-official independent director and that of Shashi Shanker as CMD of Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

The NGO Energy Watchdog moved Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court in November last year dismissed its challenge to the two appointments while holding that the NGO did not place anything on record to support its “bald pleas”.

Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan sought Centre’s response on the petition filed by Energy Watchdog, a society working for protection of consumer interest in energy sector, which has also sought an interim stay on the two appointments.

Represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, the NGO moved the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court in November last year dismissed its challenge to the two appointments while holding that the NGO did not place anything on record to support its “bald pleas”.

The NGO has challenged Patra’s appointment on three main grounds:  That he is not 'independent' and being the national spokesperson of the ruling party he cannot be said to be ‘not related’ to the central government run PSU as is the requirement under Section 149(2) of the Companies Act, 2013.

The second ground concerns her eligibility, with the NGO saying he does not meet the criterion being a medico and moreover, his name did not appear in the data bank maintained by the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) as is the requirement under Section 150 of Companies Act.

The petition also said since the post of independent director is highly-paid, state largess must not be passed on to such ineligible persons only because they are close to the government.

In its SLP, the NGO challenged the high court’s order which tracked his professional experience as a doctor and even noted that he has founded a "well known NGO, Swaraj which worked constantly in Delhi for the benefit of poor downtrodden and Dalits”. 

The NGO said, in its petition, before the apex court that, “if running an unknown NGO would make a person eligible to hold such an important position in such big CPSUs such as ONGC, then the whole objective of appointing independent directors on their boards would get defeated”.

“The Hon’ble Court on this issue has held that since Respondent No.6 (Patra) is a doctor and was running an NGO, and therefore he was rightly considered under the category of a “person of eminence” and selected. The Hon’ble High Court overlooked the fact that Respondent No. 6, if said to be eminent, can only be in the field of politics where he is the national spokesperson of a major national political party and other than that he does not meet any of the criteria …” the SLP said.

On Shashi Shanker’s appointment, the NGO has been maintaining that he has a tainted past and the vigilance division of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas had in 2015 suspended him stating that he “has committed gross misconduct" pertaining to procurement of blowout preventers. The SLP said his suspension was revoked as the charge sheet against him could not be filed within 90 days.

The high court, however, had upheld his appointment saying the competent disciplinary authority had taken the decision to close the disciplinary proceedings against Shanker.

Read the Petition here