The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it would like to know the Centre’s response on a plea by an NGO challenging the BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s appointment as an independent director in the Oil and Natural Gas Company board. However, in 2017, the Delhi High Court had spurned the plea, calling it as “unsubstantiated and without merit”.
Instead of issuing a formal notice to the Centre, the bench comprising justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan asked Energy Watchdog, the NGO which filed the petition, to serve a copy of the plea to the government.
Challenging the Delhi High court’s earlier verdict judgement on Nov 6, 2017, appearing for NGO Energy Watchdog, advocate Prashant Bhushan, when requested the court to issue a formal notice to the Centre, the bench replied, “You serve a copy to the Union of India. After hearing preliminary arguments, we can issue formal notice”.
Meanwhile, the bench has adjourned the matter for hearing after two weeks.
Previously the High Court quoted the PIL “unsubstantiated” and “without merit” while rejecting it over the appointment of Shashi Shanker as the Chairman and Managing Director of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).
Bhushan told the bench during the hearing that the high court had passed the judgement without any affidavit being filed by the government and without issuing any notice to the Centre. The bench referred to the verdict of the HC and said that both the sides had exchanged documents during the course of the proceedings after which the matter was heard in great detail
Shashi Shanker‘s appointment was also challenged by the NGO before the high court to order an investigation into ONGC’s awarding him a contract for which the vigilance division of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas had him suspended in February 2015 for six months. However, his suspension was later revoked as the charge sheet against him could not be filed within 90 days.
On Shanker’s appointment, the NGO has been maintaining that he has a tainted past and in 2015 suspended him stating that he “has committed gross misconduct” about procurement of blowout preventers. However, his appointment was upheld by the high court, saying the competent disciplinary authority had decided to close the disciplinary proceedings against Shanker.
The petitioners also challenged Patra’s appointment on three grounds. First, he is not “independent” but a member of BJP, a ruling party. Secondly, the petitioners argued that Patra not fulfil the eligibility criteria for the appointment. Third, only because they are close to the government, the highly-paid post should not be offered to ineligible persons.
The high court had said that although being the spokesperson of the ruling party, the petitioner has not alleged that Patra or his relatives have or had any financial relationship with the PSU or its subsidiaries, holding company or promoters.