'Hidden Agenda' behind 149 small ONGC fields

Vol 22, PW 4 (29 Nov 18) People & Policy

In public the government insists moves afoot to strip ONGC of 149 small and marginal fields and sell them to private operators is driven by one goal: to raise oil and gas production.

But in reality, the motive is more sinister. "There's a 'hidden agenda'," confides a ministry official.

"These fields will be sold to raise cash to fill the budget deficit." As recently as November 26, credit rating agency India Ratings and Research said the government may fail to keep its promise of reducing the deficit to 3.3% of GDP this fiscal.

And with general elections looming by May 2019, is it any wonder a committee headed by NITI Aayog chief Amitabh Kant, with oil secretary MM Kutty and DGH boss VP Joy as members, is preparing a formal proposal to sell ONGC's fields for submission to the PMO? "Everyone says the fields will be sold so ONGC can focus on its big fields," adds a second source. "But the real reason is the government needs cash to fund its welfare schemes and election promises."

He adds the fields could be sold outright under transactions similar to ONGC's acquisition of the Deen Dayal field in August 2017 for $1.2bn. ONGC sources confirm they have shared data on the 149 fields with NITI Aayog but promise a fight to keep them.

"We'll do whatever we can," we hear. "Our chairman (Shashi Shanker) won't back down."