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ONGC well prepared for changing environment in oil sector: Alka Mittal

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Exclusive Interview with Director – HR, ONGC

Text by Arun Pratap Singh

Pics: Bhumesh Bharti

Dehradun, 14 Aug: Maharatna ONGC was once India’s only crude oil and gas exploration organisation before its corporatisation. It is still the largest crude oil and natural gas Company in India, contributing around 71 per cent to Indian domestic production.
ONGC has the unique distinction of being a company with in-house service capabilities in all areas of Exploration and Production of Oil & Gas and related oil-field services. No more the only company in the country in this field, it continues to dominate the market and has big plans to stay as leader in the fray. Garhwal Post spoke exclusively to Director (HR) Dr Alka Mittal at ONGC Headquarters in Dehradun, during her visit here, about the past, present and future of ONGC! Some excerpts:

ONGC had a monopoly in oil and gas exploration and excavation for so long. Now with several private players also coming up to compete after the opening of the sector, what are the new challenges that you foresee for ONGC and how does it need to transform in your opinion to meet this challenge?

Before responding to your question straight away, I think it will be relevant to touch upon the history and background of ONGC. ONGC started the challenging task of searching oil and gas in the country at a time when no one else would have come forward to take up exploration in India. ONGC was set up as part of the dream of creating modern temples in India. ONGC began its operations in the toughest possible situation when there were no policies in place, particularly regarding welfare of personnel. Our senior technologists had to stay in dharamshalas in the initial years as there was no travel allowance when ONGC was a Commission. So, I agree with you that ONGC had a monopoly earlier on but I will add here that there were no takers then for oil exploration in India. When TN Seshan took over as Member, Personnel, he brought about a change in the entire set up. He realised that, in order to ensure consistent success, its personnel had to be taken care of. They had to be groomed, given the best of the facilities and incentives to retain them. By the eighties, ONGC started to make some major headways in the oil and gas exploration with a major finding in Mumbai Offshore. And ONGC started to establish a foothold in the oil sector. That was also the time when economic liberalisation started. So, there was talk of some private players being allowed.
I remember that some of my colleagues left ONGC to join some private companies. However, within a few years many of them wanted to be back with ONGC!
By the time we were corporatised and had become a company, we realised that the private sector too had a role to play and that we would be competing with other players in this volatile oil and gas exploration scenario, as well as the fact that we would be governed by the market forces in times to come. ONGC began to prepare itself for the changing scenario and to be still a dominant player. However, being a PSU, we were and still remain fully aware of our commitments to society and the country. After all, we are a welfare economy, which is evident now that the government has now come up with schemes like Ujjawala 2.0. Mahatma Gandhi had said that, till poverty exists, there will be a threat to prosperity of the nation. We saw that during the pandemic, when the labour had to migrate back to their homes with nothing in their pockets. They were vulnerable and they got infected and carried it across the country. They can’t be blamed as they did not have resources to stay back. So, poverty was the threat.

Now, coming back to your original question, let me say that, after our corporatisation, we started to reorganise ourselves, upgrade technologically and administratively. Our initial hard work in creating a data base is very useful. In fact, our data base is now also being used by the private players. We have no grudge in this regard but we take pride in it. When the National Exploration Licensing Policy came, we continued to work on many of the prospective oilfields for exploration. We continue to be the dominant player in the sector with Oil India Limited at number two, which is also a public sector company. I joined the company in 1985 and, since then, the ONGC administration has trained its core operational professionals as well as non-core professionals with the best available skills and given to them the best international exposure, as well, in countries like Canada and Russia. This is how we prepared ourselves for an open economic situation. We currently operate with the best technologies available. We focussed on best governance practices and transparent and accountable functioning. We also had a strong profit orientation and we restructured ourselves accordingly. We have a very advanced Research and Development set up and focus.

We even hired private consultants to help us draft an ambitious Energy Strategy 2040. At that time, we had a board of 18 directors, seven of whom were from ONGC, and we sat together for days to give final shape to this strategy. So, you see, we are ready to face the changing scenario with great confidence and the skills and technical and financial knowhow to deal with future challenges.

What does the future hold for ONGC?

Well, we are aware that we are not in the same situation as in the eighties. We know that we need some major findings as far as exploration goes and we are working towards that. There is potential in this respect. At the same time, we also have to commit ourselves to keeping up the production level as the country needs it for sustenance. This apart, we need to focus on our growth, as well, and our contribution towards the energy sector. In light of that, we also look forward to renewable energy resources as well.

Is ONGC also planning a major diversification towards the alternative energy sector?

In fact, in 2005, we constituted an independent entity called ONGC Energy Sector. This was the vision of then CMD Subir Raha. He stated that it was the time for us to make a difference in the Renewable Energy Sector as well. A lot of research and development was required for that and several pilot projects had to be undertaken as well. Still, it is not a thrust area for us, but in future it can be. Besides the ONGC Energy Sector, we at the ONGC also have the ONGC Technical Wing working on renewables. In 2008, we set up a wind power plant in Bhuj in Gujarat, which is doing very well. It is turning a profit for ONGC. Then, we moved to Rajasthan, where we have a 101 MW wind power plant as well. In our Energy Strategy 2040 prospective plan, too, we are looking forward to major headway in renewable energy. We won’t be looking at ourselves as merely an oil and gas company in the future. We are aware that Hydrocarbon will not be a never ending energy resource. Besides, these resources are not even being promoted now in a major way by the world due to their large carbon footprint. Along with the world, we too have to move towards cleaner fuels. I am also glad to inform you that we are now also looking forward to a geothermal project in Ladakh. In fact, ONGC will be the first to usher in the first geothermal project in the country with a capacity of 300 MW. We had started planning it in 2018 and now we are in the process to make it happen on the ground which is a challenging task as a lot of acclimatisation is required there before any operations. We are committed to making a difference also in locations and areas where the private players may not show any interest. Ladakh has potential in geothermal.

In Tripura, we are doing several projects to contribute our bit towards development of the seven sister states of the North East. OTPC is one which is a thermal power plant in Tripura that uses idle gas as fuel. Several states as well as Bangladesh are benefitting from the plant. Idle gas was not being utilised there due to its geographical remoteness and due to its cut off situation resulting in lack of transportation. But generation of electricity from the idle gas has helped the state.

Besides this, we are also looking more and more towards value added products as part of our future plans.

You are a human resources specialist and have headed the skills department of the company. As part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), ONGC does contribute a lot to the country and to the state. Do you also plan to upgrade the skills of local communities to enable employability and help prepare them for useful self employment?

We are a highly responsible company and we are governed by the law of the land. So we take our CSR responsibilities quite seriously. We have always looked at prospects of creating employability in every area of the country where we operate – whether it is the state of Assam or Tripura or Karaikal or Rajahmundry or Dehradun, because here is where we started. The polytechnic that you talked about in Dehradun was set up in 1985 when there were not many skill development centres in Uttarakhand and in Dehradun. Dehradun is now a well developed education hub with all kinds of skill development institutions established here now. So, in respect of Uttarakhand, we are looking towards remote areas of the state to work on employability and employment generation. We undertake such work with the help of NGOs. We rolled out a project in Chamoli district, recently. We are training women craftspersons from the Bhutia Tribe in woven garments. They have been traditionally weaving carpets and we are working towards upgrading their skills, technology, product design and development as well as marketing opportunities. Around 200 women and some men are set to benefit from the same. Across the country, we are helping skill upgradation and marketing facilities for around 75 types of crafts. I was in touch with them in video mode from my office in New Delhi. Simultaneously, we have also taken up some structural skills development projects by setting up an institute in Ahmedabad where we have trained over a thousand youths, many of whom have managed to secure jobs even during the pandemic. We have so far created six skill development institutes in the country with the help of our sister companies in the oil sector. We are looking forward to providing core and non-core skills training to the local communities in the upstream and downstream areas. For example, we have undertaken skill development related to oil and gas distribution. Even in Kashmirm where our presence is not very strong, we helped the army. I take pride in informing you about skill development initiatives that we have undertaken in Baramula area, there, which was known for stone pelting incidents. Now, the stone pelting has completely stopped and the parents of the girls who initially did not trust us or the army to send their wards for training are now coming forward in a major way.

Special Correspondent Arun Pratap Singh in conversation with Dr Alka Mittal at ONGC Headquarters, Dehradun.

Being at the top of the corporate ladder, you have to move around all the time. How does your family adjust to this?

Well, I have two daughters. One teaches at Delhi University and the other is a budding professional. Both of them take it very normally and they have been very understanding, so is my mother-in-law.