The controversy surrounding India’s new natural gas pricing regime refuses to fade. After stiff opposition from various political quarters, the issue is currently in the Supreme Court. Amidst charges of favoring select gas producers, the government remains undeterred and is in no mood to relent. Arnab Mitra and Anupama Airy spoke to the union petroleum minister M Veerappa Moily on the controversy.
Why is the petroleum ministry always in the middle of some controversy, the most recent being favouring corporates and increasing the pricing of natural gas.
The Petroleum ministry is the most important economic ministry and the decision to increase domestic gas prices is a bold one. India imports 80% of its oil requirement and spends an astronomical $160 billion (or Rs 9.6 lakh crore) on oil imports every year. And this number is only getting bigger by the day.
Amidst concerns over India’s fiscal situation, is it justified to continue with such a burden? Of course, the oil traders lobby is very happy with this increasing burden and would actually want India to import 100% of its oil requirements. But the actual challenge lies in getting manufacturers who can produce oil and gas in this country and make it self sufficient. To enable investments, it’s time we create a right environment else no investor will come forward. We are not obliging any company or corporate and the controversy is completely unjustified.
Could you elaborate on this oil import lobby?
The decision-making process is being threatened every day. Bureaucrats and officials are being threatened by the oil trading lobbies that do not want India to become self-sufficient in energy. Unfortunately, my friends who are opposing the gas price hike feel our decisions are to suit the explorers. The so called lobby of explorers is small in number whereas that of the traders is huge and it is the latter that is preventing us from becoming self-reliant in energy. If we take decisions to suit them, the country will become poorer by the day. We cannot afford an oil import bill of $160 billion a year. With correct emphasis on domestic oil and gas exploration, we can gain an energy efficiency of 50% by 2020.
Do you have a clear roadmap to make India self reliant in energy?
Yes. With correct policies in place, we can become energy independent by 2030. The Vijay Kelkar committee is already working on this.
Another charge is that gas price revision, that was due from April 1, 2014 has been done in a hurry. Why was this decision not left to the new government?
The decision to revise gas prices has not been taken overnight to help somebody but only after due consultations .It is based on the recommendations of an expert committee led by noted economist Dr C Rangarajan, which deliberated for over two years. While it is always easy to blame a politician, can we attribute motives to a respected person like Rangarajan? If I don’t take a decision now and wait till the elections get over, the country will suffer and it will be the oil traders who will gain. We cannot let that happen.
What about the impact of this on the common man?
Are you saying that the common man’s interests will be protected by purchasing imported gas at a price which is two-and-a-half-times more than the new price of $6.8 per unit? You have to either choose imported gas or enable more production of domestic gas that makes life easier, going forward.