"We are floating in oil and gas but unable to explore it"

Under fire on the gas pricing issue, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Veerappa Moily on Friday took everyone by surprise by claiming that India was “floating in oil and gas” and every successive Petroleum Minister stood threatened by “import lobbies” not to take decisions aimed at cutting down import of petroleum products.

Interestingly, Mr. Moily refrained from naming the lobbies.

India, which imports around 80 per cent of oil and gas needs, has been constantly trying to seek investments from domestic and foreign investors in the oil and gas sector. Public sector oil marketing companies are major importers of oil and gas.

Bureaucratic delays

“I am telling you with all sense of responsibility that we are floating in oil and gas in this country. We are not exploring it; instead we are putting every obstruction to it. There are delays caused by bureaucrats in decision-making and there are lobbies which don’t want us to stop imports. There are some lobbies which threaten every successive Petroleum Minister against taking decisions to cut down imports,” he told reporters in New Delhi.

On being repeatedly asked about the lobbies, he said: “history will speak about it. It is for you to judge.”

“Oil and gas imports will keep on rising if domestic production is not incentivised through the right pricing policy. We are challenged by the vagaries of international price,” he said.

Revision of gas price was aimed at reviving investor sentiment. the sentiment was quite low for the last four to five years and the government had to find the right price to attract investments. Interestingly, even before the Cabinet has discussed the matter, which is confidential in nature, Mr. Moily went public stating that he had proposed to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) the raising of domestic gas price from the current $4.2 per million British thermal unit to $6.775.

“Open to suggestions”

Asked about CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta’s allegations that gas price hike was meant to benefit Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), he said the Petroleum Ministry was open to any solution that would help unshackle the present grid of non-investment-no-production and increased imports. “I had called Mr. Dasgupta but he is not prepared to come for a discussion. But I can reassure him or whosoever is there in the market — all the criticism should be there, but it should not get personal. I am open to all suggestions.”

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