PMO intervention fails to move ministries in to action

The New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) round IX offering 34 oil and gas blocks has fallen victim to internal squabbling among various ministries and departments of the Union Government. Even a series of high-level meetings, convened by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), has failed to iron out differences.

With the energy security of the nation having taken a backseat in the spat among various Ministries, the NELP IX seems to have become a victim of internal fights among the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry, Department of Space and the Defence Ministry.

Sensing that such a situation would send wrong signals on policy-making to international investors, the PMO had convened a meeting on February 27 to sort out the mess and tide over the delays.

The Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Pulok Chatterjee, discussed the delays in the execution of exploration activity in the nearly 20-odd blocks, some under NELP IX and some old ones, which have been stuck due to sharp differences among the Petroleum Ministry, Defence Ministry and the Department of Space.

The PMO had also, on January 3, held a meeting when the Defence Ministry and the Department of Space was asked to come out with their clear stand on certain blocks where no objection certificate (NOC) had been withheld. However, till the last meeting on February 27, the Defence Ministry had not stated its stand on the clearance for these blocks.

The point of contention is that, in 2011, the Defence Ministry gave clearance for beginning work on eight offshore oil and gas fields in the Eastern and Andaman offshore zone. The Defence Ministry has refused to allow exploration, saying any activity could jeopardise naval operations. The Navy has imposed restrictions on three blocks in the Eastern and Andaman offshore zone, after initially agreeing that exploration could begin there. The Navy has maintained that its objections centred on the fact that the exploration would take place in the areas being used for submarine manoeuvres and training.

However, what has upset the Petroleum Ministry is that despite a number of meetings held in this regard and even the PMO having stepped in, the Defence Ministry has not come clear on the issue. In fact, the Petroleum Ministry officials have told the Defence Ministry that if restrictions were imposed now in respect of these two blocks, then it might invite criticism and the credibility of Indian policies would be lost.

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