With his move to divest a joint secretary of gas pricing portfolio kicking up a controversy, Petroleum Minister M. Veerappa Moily has rescinded the decision, restoring it with the officer “for the time-being.”
Mr. Moily had on August 6 decided to transfer the gas pricing portfolio out of Joint Secretary (Exploration) Giridhar Aramane’s functions and shift it to Joint Secretary in-charge of International Cooperation & Gas Pricing (JS IC&GP).
The move, according to Mr. Moily, was aimed at lessening Mr. Aramane’s burden and re-align portfolios as JS-IC&GP was in-charge of gas division with responsibilities including allocation of natural gas and pricing of gas from nominated fields. Gas pricing from NELP blocks like Reliance Industries’ KG-D6 block was, however, with JS (Exploration).
An oil ministry official said the ministry on Wednesday issued orders transferring the gas pricing from JS(E) to JS(IC&GP) but later Mr. Moily had a re-think and the portfolio was reverted back to Mr. Aramane.
“This was done primarily because the ministry is to file an affidavit in Supreme Court on a petition challenging the June 27 decision of the Cabinet to raise gas prices. Since Aramane had piloted the move, it was decided that the function remains with him at least until filing of the affidavit, which has to be done by September 6,” the official said.
The move to divest Mr. Aramane, a 1988-batch IAS officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre who was brought into the ministry by Mr. Moily’s predecessor S. Jaipal Reddy, was criticised by CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta. Mr. Dasgupta alleged that an ‘honest officer’ inconvenient to RIL was “transferred” out.
Reacting strongly to it, Mr. Moily said the decision was not taken “to respond to anybody’s needs” and offered to quit if even an iota of evidence was produced on the charges.
Exploration portfolio, where RIL had faced challenges in getting approvals, continued with Mr. Aramane. Also, after the Cabinet decided on the pricing for five years upto March 31, 2019, there was not much work left on the pricing front other than implementation, he said.
Sources said Oil Secretary Vivek Rae had requested Mr. Moily to reconsider his August 6 decision to take away gas pricing from Mr. Aramane saying the incoming officer would not have “domain expertise” to handle it.
The official said but for the gas pricing, the other parts of Mr. Moily’s order — shifting coal-bed methane and shale gas to JS-IC&GP — have been carried out.
Also, ethanol blending in petrol portfolio has been transferred from marketing wing to refineries division.
In response to Mr. Dasgupta’s charges, Mr. Moily had on Tuesday stated that the very same Joint Secretary, for whom Mr. Dasgupta had taken up cudgels for, along with the DGH had rejected proposals for developing gas fields as they found the current price of USD 4.2 not sufficient enough.