Starting on 15 July, the central government will start the global bidding process for 67 discovered small oil and gas fields across the country which has been lying undeveloped for many years. At least 12 such oil fields have been found in Assam which will also go under the hammer in due process. While the State Government has been claiming that this will generate employment for the youth and also put to use these oilfields lying unused since years, not everyone is buying this logic.
Since Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan made the announcement last Friday, there has been diverse reaction across the state. The move has been strongly criticized by students’ organization All Assam Students Union (AASU) along with political parties like Congress, AAP and AIUDF. Former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said that the fields should be handed over to the three state hydrocarbon PSUs – Assam Hydrocarbon & Energy Company Limited, Assam Gas Company Limited, and Assam Power Generation Corporation Limited.
Protestors from Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) even protested outside the hotel where Pradhan was staying and city police had to resort to baton-charge to disperse the crowd while agitators were also detained.
Union Minister Pradhan has already claimed that oil worth Rs 17,000 crores will be produced from these 12 oil fields. These fields which were lying unused anyway will be put to use after auctioning. The government will auction these fields on a new revenue sharing model, which will give the bidders pricing and marketing freedom. Many people feel that it might be in the best interest of the state if these fields ‘surrendered’ by ONGC because of huge overhead costs and uneconomic size are put to use in some manner.
However, a remarkable lack of clarity is being seen on the part of the government in handling of the entire issue. Question arises why anyone would be willing to spend so much money on oil fields which were marked as being undeveloped by ONGC. If the point is making use of oil fields which were lying rotten since the last thirty years, how they can be of any use to the companies which will buy them in the auction? Not to forget the sentiments of the local people of Assam who would rather give their blood but not their oil. Once the ownership of these oil fields is transferred to the companies, people of Assam will lose very valuable assets. Also, it is a pertinent question to ask why these oil fields can’t be managed by the government.
Now, the situation has become a bit twisted for BJP as even their alliance partner AGP has strongly expressed their reservation over the auctioning of oil fields. The government has failed to explain to the people why this auction is necessary. Before going ahead with the auction, there should be proper discussion regarding the pros and cons of the move. Ultimately, people of Assam have to benefit from this decision and whatever needs to be done.