It is a well-known fact that India imports about three-fourth of the petroleum products it uses. With crude prices soaring, and with no signs of their coming down, one would have expected the government to be working earnestly to achieve fuel security. But then the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime has developed a disdain for anything that is important for the nation. So, unsurprisingly, its attitude towards our fuel concerns is at best cavalier and insouciant.
The cavalierism and insouciance were evident at the seventh round of National Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP-VII), held on June 30. While 96 Indian and foreign oil majors?including ONGC, RIL, Essar, BP Plc and BHP Billiton?placed 181 bids for 45 exploration blocks in India, a dozen blocks drew a blank. As if to dissuade energy majors from bidding, two days before the deadline for bids, the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas made it clear that the difference in taxes for oil and gas finds would continue. This created a negative sentiment for the exploration round, said ONGC chairman R.S. Sharma. ?This clarification [by the government] shows that policymakers in India do not have the basic understanding of the business.? When was the last time that the chief of a public sector undertaking (PSU) castigated the policymakers in such categorical terms?
Director General of Hydrocarbons V.K. Sibal was also critical: ?The response to gas blocks was lukewarm because of a lack of clarity on policy-related issues.? The oil PSU chief and the sector regulator were not the only ones lamenting over the lack of clarity. ?There is no logic in having different terms for oil and gas discoveries,? BP exploration director for South Asia Jonathan Evans said after submitting bids for two deep-water blocks in partnership with RIL. Larry Fisher, country manager, India, Niko Resources, echoed similar views, ?There is no clarity in taxation and prospectivity is also an issue.?
It is not that the government suddenly came to know of industry'sproblems. Days before the announcement of the results of NELP-VII, BP had written a letter to Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, charging the government with reneging on its commitment and said such policy flip-flops discourage investors from taking India seriously. Yet, the government did not wake up to make necessary amendments in policy.
This is despite the fact that no less a person than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself has emphasised the need for energy security a number of times. Inaugurating the International Conference on ?Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons? on June 9, he said, ?Our energy needs will continue to rise in the foreseeable future. We do not have the luxury of limiting our options of energy sources. We therefore wish to create an international environment in which nuclear technology is used not for destructive purposes but for helping us meet our national development goals and our energy security.?
Earlier, on November 11 last year, in an interview with the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, the Prime Minister said, ?India is currently the fourth largest importer of oil and gas in the world. With India growing at over 8-9 per cent per annum, our energy requirements are increasing rapidly.? In the same interview, he also said, ?India is seeking to attract international oil companies to bid for exploration blocks.?
But, Dr Singh, is this the way to attract international majors? There are many other questions that the Prime Minister and his party need to answer. Our vulnerability regarding energy became evident 35 years ago, when the first oil shock rattled the world. Since 1973, the Congress has been in power for 21 years. What has the grand old party done in these 21 years to minimise our dependence on imported petroleum? There are dozens of laboratories involved under the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research. There is even a Minister of Non-conventional Energy. What have all the politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and scientists done for energy security? Why haven'twe been able to make any headway in solar energy, wind energy and hydrogen energy? The Japanese company, Honda, recently showcased its hybrid car in our country. What has been done to come up with more fuel efficient vehicles in our country?
Honest answers to these questions can suggest a way out, but the UPA is interested in neither honest answers nor any solutions. It is interested only in appeasing Muslims, placating the traitorous communists and saving its own government at any cost.
It is scarcely amazing that the most serious issues like those of energy security and national defence go down in the priority list.
(The author works with The Political and Business Daily.)