The Supreme Court has asked the Centre’s Narendra Modi government to file its response to a petition challenging the arbitrary and mala fide appointment of BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as an independent director of the ONGC. The matter was listed on Monday before a bench comprising Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, which sought the response of the central government on the issue. The petition was filed on behalf of Energy Watchdog with noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan appearing in the matter.
Patra’s appointment has been challenged on the following grounds:
(a) That he is not ‘independent’: ONGC is a central government undertaking 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;
(b) That he is ineligible: He does not fulfill the eligibility criteria in place for the appointment to the post of independent director. 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.
(c) That the post is a highly paying one (Rs 23-27 lakhs plus per year) and that state largess must not be passed on to such ineligible persons only because they are close to the government.
Patra, BJP’s national spokesperson and a popular face on TV channels, was appointed as non-official director on the board of state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Ltd in September last year.
The Delhi High Court had said in November last year that it will not interfere with the appointment of Patra as an independent director on the board of the ONGC.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar had refused to entertain the PIL also seeking the cancellation of the appointment of Shashi Shanker as the ONGC Chairman and Managing Director (CMD).