Thursday, Oct 02, 2014
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with Manish Sisodia. (PTI) Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with Manish Sisodia. (PTI)
Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | Posted: February 14, 2014 3:09 am | Updated: February 14, 2014 9:19 am

Delhi’s chief minister does not appear to realise that at the heart of the gas pricing policy lie questions of energy self-sufficiency and security.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s latest charge in the name of corruption provokes the thought whether the leading light of the Aam Aadmi Party is at all serious about the cause he claims to espouse. The more closely one looks at his actions of the last month, Kejriwal comes across as a stereotype politician, one who stays away from serious governance issues, obfuscates facts to make headlines, prefers street protests to sitting in office and doing his job, and is now stretching the mandate of his government to block the new gas pricing policy.

In many ways, he seeks to unsettle and disrupt. And, objectively, there’s nothing wrong with that. It could even do some good as long as the intent is constructive. The FIR on gas pricing and collusion, unfortunately, lays bare something more than just intent — it exposes a willingness to lean towards the conspiratorial for apparent political gains, a most dangerous tendency for a new chief minister.

First, the allegations raised in the FIR are already being heard by the Supreme Court. So why does one need another complaint? Clearly, this was not legally thought through. And if it was, then, even more dangerously, immediate political mileage found priority over sound policy. One usually finds this attitude in the last days of a government, but Kejriwal’s is barely a couple of months old.

The gas pricing policy has to be seen separately from the Reliance case because India, as an energy starved country, needs natural gas and has to find a way to produce more. Indeed, India has barely exploited its own domestic potential which, analysts say, is now up to 91 trillion cubic feet. But for India to produce more, it has to make production a lucrative business proposition while maintaining reasonable price levels. How else does one attract investment?

With gas import prices anywhere up to $14-15 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), it may just be wiser for many Indian companies to invest in fields abroad and export the gas back to India at higher prices. This way, the AAP may feel more reassured, but it would come at a cost much higher than the extra foreign exchange the country would have to shell out — and it would make India more dependent and energy insecure.

However, if the objective is to strengthen India’s energy profile, make it more self-reliant in the long run and build a whole new economy around this technologically intensive production activity, a more robust and realistic policy frame is essential. As domestic demand for natural gas increases, production will have to take place from areas with challenging terrain, including the high seas. It’s here that the cost of investment increases. But along continued…

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