Another new regulator but this time for pipelines

Vol 13, PW 11 (05 Nov 09) People & Policy

Already limping along, the oil ministry wants to further weaken the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board by stripping it of responsibility for the laying and regulation of new â€کtrunk’ gas transmission pipelines across India.

Contacted by this report, a senior ministry source confirms that such a move is indeed being considered and that discussions are underway. “At the moment this is just a proposal,â€‌ says our source, “but the idea is that such a body would facilitate the laying of a wide network of trunk pipelines covering India.

â€‌ This new body, he adds, will be called the National Gas Highway Development Authority. “Setting it up,â€‌ we hear, “might or might not involve amending the (Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board) Act.

â€‌ But he hastily clarifies that the move will not leave the Board entirely redundant. “It will continue to have powers to regulate the sector and ensure fair play.

â€‌ According to a gas sector source, ministry action is the product of acute dissatisfaction with the functioning of the Board and its chairman Labanyendu Mansingh. Unhappy at the way the regulator is functioning, says our source, the ministry decided to strip it of authority over trunk pipelines and confine it to overseeing only the city gas distribution business.

Another source says Mansingh, himself a retired bureaucrat, has antagonised fellow bureaucrats in the oil ministry. Yet another unconfirmed story speculates that the new independent regulatory body is being set up solely as a sinecure for oil secretary RS Pandey, who retires on January 31, 2010, aged 60.

GAIL opposes another regulatory body. “We want the Board stripped of its authority over trunk pipelines,â€‌ says a GAIL source, “but aren’t in favour of this new body.

â€‌ GAIL believes the ministry should retain authority over trunk pipelines. “That’s the only way to ensure a trunk pipeline grid is laid uniformly across the country,â€‌ we hear, “and not just in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.