Founding A New india
It was in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi entrusted me with the task to spearhead the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. The brief was clear – first the government aims for Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas and second I have to ensure bringing real change to the life of “last person standing” or “Antyodaya.”
It was the first time I was going to head an ‘economic’ ministry, one of the crucial departments in Government of India, overlooking sources of energy that feeds up to 37% of India’s energy appetite.
With two clear visions given by my leader, I made by entrée to the second floor of the Shahstry Bhawan. I was greeted by few media friends on my maiden entry to the ministry and the first question I faced as a Petroleum Ministry was: When will you take a decision on gas pricing? This question followed me like a shadow for next few weeks.
The word ‘gas pricing’ had prolonged impact on my mind. However, the media was seeking a response on pricing for natural gas, which is drilled out of mother Earth, but for me the first impression of ‘gas’ meant the cooking fuel, which I had seen in my home since I was a child.
I grew up in the Eastern State of Odisha and I have memories of long queues with people standing with their empty LPG cylinders the entire day hoping that the truck with new cylinders would arrive. Sometime it did and many times the wait was futile. Whenever, I had visited rural areas of my State I could see those red eyes and tears of ladies cooking on a conventional chullah. Till few years back, getting a Schengen VISA was easier than getting a new LPG connection.
With the responsibility on my shoulders and a vision of Antyoday from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I decided that the country needs a LPG revolution.
It was a big challenge – to identify those who need to be provided with a LPG connection and who should get a cooking fuel subsidy. Indeed, it was a tough road. To overcome the challenge, IT became my tool.
On May 1, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) targeting to offer LPG connection to 5 crore below poverty line families till 2019. While several analysts said the scheme has been launched to gain electoral mandate in Uttar Pradesh, but they were wrong. It was a small foresight by few critics.
PMUY became a social movement in the country and over 2.20 crore new LPG connections were given in first year of the scheme. Of this, 38% beneficiaries belonged to ST/SC communities. Clean, safe and environment friendly cooking gas distribution saw the fastest growth in at least the last couple of decades in our country. It had never happened before.
Two other programmes complemented to the India’s LPG revolution. On January 1, 2015, PAHAL or transfer of the subsidy directly to the bank accounts of intended beneficiaries went pan-India. The results were evident and immediate. The diversion of domestic LPG for commercial and auto-LPG purposes decreased substantially. Crores of bogus connections were weeded out. PAHAL has entered into Guinness book of World records being largest Direct Benefit Transfer scheme.
The silver lining in the form of an encouragement came to us when over 1.05 crore LPG subscribers voluntarily gave up their cooking gas subsidy after being made an appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It was clear that it is just the beginning. I will have to live-up to the expectations of these individuals who entrusted faith in the government. I will have to bring the change and Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas became my mantra.
The International Energy Agency has said that demand for energy in India would be close to that in the United States in another two and a half decades. The Paris-based organisation has forecasted India’s oil import dependence increasing to above 90% by 2040 from around 78-80% now.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given us the target of decreasing the crude oil imports by 10% by 2022 when India celebrates its 75th year of independence. It was a big task at hand. The answer to this was to enhance domestic production; promote energy efficiency and conservation; demand substitution and promoting bio-fuels and renewable energy. And we have to put in place transparent and investor friendly policies on place to excel on these parameters.
In October 2014, the Union Cabinet gave its nod for several policies in the petroleum sector. For the first time in the country, the price of domestic natural gas would be derived based on a formula, which is linked to global indices. The price would be revised every six months.
The clarity on gas pricing was not enough. The investors were seeking a complete rehaul of hydrocarbon exploration license regime.
The Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP), which replaced the decades-old New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP), helped India turned over a new leaf as far as exploration of hydrocarbons is concerned.
The testimony to new contractual regime was in November 2016 when nearly 73% of contract area under discovered small fields’ auction received bids.
Soon after the bidding to these fields concluded, Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) told me that the high number of new and private sector bidders show how an attractive bidding framework can entice companies to participate, even under difficult global market conditions, and it also stresses the strong prospects seen in the Indian upstream and downstream sector.
Certainly, India’s oil and gas sector was getting a new look. But it is a long route to achieve Antyodaya.
There are hundreds of small and medium sized enterprises particularly spread across Eastern States in dire need of affordable and reliable fuel supply. To harness the immense potential for increasing natural gas share in the energy mix at an affordable price, we have started the execution of 2600 kilometers long Jagdishpur – Haldia & Bokaro – Dhamra Natural Gas Pipeline Project which is popularly known as Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga.
In order to move towards a gas-based economy in the coming years, our thrust is to develop more LNG re-gasification capacities and expansion of the country’s cross-country gas pipeline network by another 15,000 km.
We have embarked on environment friendly alternate fuel program. We have launched ethanol blending program and Oil PSUs are setting up 2nd Generation ethanol plants.
Fouth years have gone by, but it still feels like yesterday! What have we achieved in these years? Our eyes are set on infrastructure development, manufacturing, technological advancement, skills development and financial inclusion. But, the bigger change is trust and optimism, which could lead a nation to success. First time in the history of India, people have started to think that Government can move at a brisk pace and bring in expected welfare oriented results in a time bound manner.
My job is to ensure access to clean, affordable and reliable energy, and to make India a most attractive welcoming destination for investment in the hydrocarbon sector while also pursuing the green path to progress. I would leave no stone unturned while fulfilling my duties. I look forward for your support to make India the nation of our dreams!
By Dharmendra Pradhan