Energy tops priority list as PM Modi begins central Asia tour

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 06, 2015 10:10 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has India’s energy hunger on his mind as he begins his first-ever visit to the five ‘stans’ of Central Asia on Monday. On top of the Prime Minister’s priority list is a pitch for India joining the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Oman-Iran transit treaty for New Delhi to get a share of Turkmenistan’s vast natural gas reserves.

Modi’s visit marks the first time an Indian Prime Minister is visiting all five Central Asian countries since the breakup of the Soviet Union. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to meet leadership of Iran, Central Asian States and Russia to ensure that Indian goods and vice versa find their way into these landlocked republics,” said a senior official.

India seeks to plug into Turkmenistan’s natural gas that will flow to Iran and Oman through Uzbekistan as a result of the transit treaty that aims at facilitating a multi-faceted transportation corridor. India had in May inked a deal with Iran to be part of development of the strategic Chabahar port. Chabahar also gives India access to Afghanistan from the west, and is less distant from Gujarat than Delhi is from Mumbai.

On New Delhi’s horizon is transporting Turkmenistan gas from Chabahar to Kandla port in Gujarat, or even Mumbai High. That this can be an alternative to the much delayed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project makes it even more attractive for New Delhi.

Top government sources said Oman and Iran have already conveyed that they have no objections to India joining the transit treaty. Modi will take up this vital issue with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov during talks in Tashkent, the Prime Minister’s first stop.

While India has been waiting for the TAPI project to reach fruition, Turkmenistan has started supplying up to than 90 billion cubic metres of gas annually to China. Technically India shares a 16-km border with Tajikistan, but this route is off-limits due to Pakistan’s occupation of that part of Kashmir. This has resulted serious connectivity issues with Central Asia, reflected in the puny $1.6 billion of bilateral trade between India and all five republics.

About 1,800 km of pipeline is required to evacuate gas from Turkmenistan and then ship it to Kandla which is 510 nautical miles from Chabahar. Modi will visit Kazakhstan on Tuesday and will remotely switch on the drilling rig for the first oil well acquired by ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL).

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