Not the best way to promote a licensing round

Vol 19, PW 20 (16 Jun 16) People & Policy

You'd think the Discovered Small Fields Round would be a roaring success if you go by the packed Ballroom at the Taj Land's End in Mumbai on June 5 when Dharmendra Pradhan held the first roadshow.

Yet the ministry's choice of endorsements in the promotional video left many sniggering aloud. One was from Mayank Ashar, who conveniently stepped down as Cairn CEO the same day amid rumours of a clash with owner Anil Agarwal.

Another was from BG India chief Shaleen Sharma whose future is in doubt following Shell's takeover. Also promoting the round was BP's Sashi Mukundan who has the dubious distinction of convincing his company to spend $7.2bn for a 30% stake in 21 Reliance exploration blocks with nothing to show but grief and expensive legal bills.

Curiously there was no endorsement from Reliance or Essar both with a significant E&P presence in India. One can only speculate what Reliance boss PMS Prasad and Essar chief LK Gupta both seated tight-lipped in the audience were thinking.

Some say the choice of BP, BG and Cairn reflects ministry desperation to attract foreign investors. Yet it was difficult to ignore that Ashar, Sharma and Mukundan are all Indian-origin executives.

"Why couldn't the ministry get 'expat' (read: white) bosses to fly in from Singapore or wherever to endorse its efforts?" a source asks. "Indian bosses never criticise the ministry in public.

Their endorsements carry little weight."