Oil India is welcome in Nagaland but not ONGC

Vol 20, PW 25 (07 Sep 17) People & Policy

Oil India is welcome, but ONGC is definitely not! That's the message from Nagaland state authorities as they prepare to carve out blocks in the Kohima, Dimapur, Mon and Mokokchung districts for a resumption of E&P after 23 years.

Better news still, oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan has accepted Naga demands to exclude toxic ONGC and has himself proposed Oil India as a credible alternative. Pradhan held a preliminary meeting in August with BJP party colleague Mmhonlumo Kikon, Nagaland's newly-appointed geology, mining and border affairs minister.

Another meeting is planned in October to discuss E&P, negotiate the central government's revenue share from established fields like Changpang and crucially - propose changes to the Nagaland Petroleum and Natural Gas Rules, 2012. With luck these changes over royalty payments to landowners should appease the local Lotha Hoho tribe and convince it to drop a damaging Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Guwahati High Court preventing the resumption of E&P.

As a BJP activist, Kikon has Pradhan's ear; he is also from the Lotha tribe in the oil-bearing Wokha district and well-placed to broker any peace deal with local landowners. Unlike in other Indian states, the people of Nagaland hold the rights to the mineral resources on their land under a special constitutional provision: Article 371A.

If all goes well, expect the PIL to be dropped followed by an E&P auction announcement before state assembly elections in March 2018.