MoS, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dharmendra Pradhan, who was once BJP in-charge of Bihar, is confident of the party doing well in the state. In this Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Editor D K Singh, he regrets the controversies generated over Maharashtra Sadan and Sania Mirza.
D K SINGH: Is your government embarrassed by the latest episode involving the Shiv Sena?
It should not have happened. There should be a basic code of conduct in public life. It’s an unfortunate incident.
COOMI KAPOOR: You were in charge of Bihar during the last general elections when the RJD and JD(U) were fighting against each other. In the coming bypolls, the RJD, JD(U) and Congress are all together. Do you see this as a disadvantage?
During the past four years, I have been associated with Bihar as a political activist. I have toured Bihar extensively in 2004-2005 as the president of my party’s youth wing. Bihar is a dynamic state. Whenever anyone has tried to rule it through arithmetic calculations, that person has failed miserably. Bihar has the zeal to develop and to lead — what we call the ‘Bihari pride’. The Congress ruled the state for a long period of time. In the 1990 and 1995 Vidhan Sabha elections, Lalu Prasad was leading, but he emerged a real leader only after he became the chief minister. He changed the politics of Bihar and did everything in his own style. 1995 was his election. And 1996 onwards, Bihar accepted a new kind of politics that was called reactionary politics, but I call it positive politics. Then, Jharkhand was formed. After 2005, the positive thing was that people across all socio-economic backgrounds came out to vote. This was repeated in 2014. The BJP will take Bihar to greater heights. If we are able to bring together different communities in the state, we will consider that as our success.
SUNIL JAIN: You have set up a committee to look into gas pricing. If the Oil And Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) is not able to produce gas at $4.2 and the only solution is to keep importing at $11, $12, $13, then what are you trying to achieve by delaying it? What are you trying to examine?
There is no such committee. The new government is taking the gas pricing issue very seriously and a lot of debate will happen to come up with the best solution possible. We are debating the source of energy — whether it will be carbon or hydro carbon, its availability, the cost that will be incurred to make it available, and how much of it will have to be imported. Within 60 days of forming the government, the Union Cabinet has taken a decision and is dealing with the issue on priority.
SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE: When it comes to LPG pricing, there are three prices — subsidised, non-subsidised and commercial prices for the people. In the past, there have been signs from your office that the pricing for subsidised gas will not be increased? What are your views on this?
When it comes to LPG, there are more than 16 crore customers. In this country, there is a section that needs protection and whose needs should be looked after on a priority basis. In a welfare state, the government has to give certain things at subsidised rates to some people. This is where we will focus and try to improve the situation. For reducing the subsidy burden of the country, there are so many ideas that we are working on. Not only LPG, we are also focusing on kerosene. If we target the really needy people, a customer-based approach is possible. The National Population Register can also help us.
D K SINGH. What is it about the Naveen Patnaik government in Orissa that the Congress and the BJP have got completely sidelined in your state?
This is a democracy and we have to accept the election results. The Left had ruled West Bengal for so long, yet the electorate rejected them. Each day and each incident in politics can prove to be a game changer.
SIDDHARTHA SAIKIA: ONGC, the biggest government company, is not performing well, and the government has said that it will begin divesting shares. Similarly, during the UPA rule, the government tried divesting shares in public sector undertakings, but there were no buyers; finally, the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) had to bail them out. What do you propose to do so that PSUs like ONGC and Oil India start performing well?
They are two different things. First, the Narendra Modi government is not incompetent that ONGC will not get its rates when the divestment process begins. The Finance Minister has indicated that the process has already begun. Secondly, in Parliament a question regarding India’s crude oil dependency came up and I said that the production in national oil companies like ONGC and Oil India has been on the decline, which is worrying. There could be genuine reasons for the decline — the mature oil fields have become saturated and small fields do not come under ONGC’s business plan, which needs a policy of protection from the government. There is no shortcut to capacity enhancement of the ONGC. The three ways are — rigorous monitoring, accountability, and targeted responsibility. In the last couple of months, we have been holding monthly meetings on the 5th of every month with officials from both the company and ministry. We have asked them to give us the the target for that month over the last three years, the reasons why they have not been able to meet that target, and what help they need.
SUNIL JAIN: One of the problems that the ONGC is facing is linked to the deep water operations. For instance, the ONCG got into collaboration with Petrobras and Statoil for joint exploration because these companies have expertise in the concerned areas. Now most of the big companies ONGC has tied up with have said that they can’t be doing tendering for everything. Every requisitioning has to go to the ministry for sanction. Don’t you think the ONGC should be given freedom to operate?
We are looking at complete policy reforms covering all the nominated oil fields. We are making a flow chart on individual problems, policy protection needs, and areas of improvement in each of the oil fields. Our primary challenge is augmentation of domestic production.
MONOJIT MAJUMDAR: Coming back to politics, in Bihar in the 2014 Lok Sabha election vote share, the BJP got around 30 per cent and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) got 6 per cent. So the NDA got 36 per cent vote share.
No, we got around 39 per cent.
MONOJIT MAJUMDAR: Lalu Prasad got 20 per cent and Nitish Kumar got 16 per cent. If Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad were to merge their Muslim votes, what would be the BJP’s plan?
This is a flawed analysis. I will give you example of two constituencies in Bihar — Baisi and Kochadhaman, one in Poorvanchal and the other in Seemanchal. Both are minority-dominated constituencies, and we won both the seats. Muslims comprised 80-90 per cent of voters there; we got around 30 per cent of the vote share. So it is wrong to say that the votes got split. People voted for us generously.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: Isn’t 60 days enough time for acche din to come, and for ministers to set up their offices? But files pertaining to the appointment letters of more than half of your ministers’ private secretaries and many of your ministers’ private staff, additional private secretaries, assistant private secretaries and first personal assistants are on hold in the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).
These appointments have to be vetted carefully.
D K SINGH: The Opposition parties are asking who is the No.2 in your party. Do you have any idea?
Narendra Modiji has appointed two deputy leaders in two Houses — Rajnath Singh in the Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha.
SANDEEP SINGH: India is going to diversify crude oil imports by buying from countries like Venezuela and Columbia. But the oil is of higher grade and the transport costs are higher too. Have you drawn up an analysis of the increase in costs and the impact on India’s crude oil bill?
When we think about pricing, we need to remember that it is an average from different sources, for instance the Indian basket. But we do take into consideration individual country’s rebate, economy and prices. As far as quality is concerned, the country’s refinery capacity and technology are such that we keep a net excess for energy security so that there is a sense of assurance in times of crisis. That’s why, as a strategy, oil diplomacy has to be strengthened.
SIDDHARTHA SAIKIA: Recently, a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report brought up questions on the current trade and import parity pricing, and said that consumers were charged around Rs 26,000 crore more than due on petroleum products, and that the previous government — P Chidambaram, to be precise — wanted to change it to export parity pricing because it would have cut down the subsidy bill by Rs 15,000 crore to 20,000 crore. What is your ministry’s view on pricing methodology of petroleum products? Are you looking at trade parity or export parity?
What is the role of the CAG? When I became an MLA for the first time in 2000, I worked with the Public Accounts Committee of my constituency. Public Accounts Committee reviews CAG reports. From what I understand, and it is subject to correction, the CAG’s role is to check whether money spent by the government on a government programme or scheme is justified or not. The CAG gives its opinions on the expenditures of governments — state or central — whether they are justified. All are in public domain. The profit margin of refining is 1-1.5 per cent. We should not look at pricing policy of goods in isolation. This is just a viewpoint. Many countries have crude oil availability but a weak refining policy and strategy, so they have to procure expensive oil. Therefore, you cannot plainly say that refining sector is only profiteering.
SIDDHARTHA SAIKIA: If you chose to keep export parity then one-third of the refineries will close down. That is wrong too.
Yes, we have to take into consideration the economics of refining sector. At the time of the Iraq crisis, we assured the country that there is nothing to worry. People asked us, ‘How do you have such a network’, and now you are asking how we have so much profit. Our refining capacity is very robust. We are earning out of our imports because of our refining. A part of our foreign exchange burden is also a little reduced. Therefore, if we look at things in a holistic manner, we can get an answer. And the CAG report, without any disrespect meant to the organisation, is only an observation.
SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE: In the petroleum sector, a major issue has been corruption. Post-retirement, many officers very quickly get selected to boards of companies. This has been going on. So there should be some restriction or a ban of two years on this.
The leaders of the economy should be dynamic. The ones who are currently serving are also dynamic, I do not deny that. But it has to be made more dynamic. We are deliberating on this issue and Modiji has given us some guidelines that the leadership of the oil economy should be made more accountable, market-friendly and dynamic.
COOMI KAPOOR: How much impact will the crisis in Iraq and the Middle East have on the Indian oil sector?
There are two questions connected to this. The first one we had to suffer and the second one we have managed. There was, of course, a little bit of price destability because international prices are not in our hands. But we can see good signs now, prices are stable and have improved. India can manage it now.
MONOJIT MAJUMDAR: One of your leaders has said that since Sania Mirza is ‘Pakistan’s daughter in-law’, she cannot be Telangana’s brand ambassador. Your views on this.
There are more serious problems before the country. Let us set an agenda that is productive.
D K SINGH: In parliamentary elections people voted you to power because of your promise of ache din aane waale hain. Are you going to fight the next Assembly polls with the same mantra?
States have different issues; these are different from that of national politics. We will win all the seats.
Transcribed by Ananya Bhardwaj & Sarah Hafeez