Pradhan sacked for DSF and other failures

Vol 24, PW 17 (15 Jul 21) People & Policy

Behind the smiles, former oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan must have been disappointed when handing over the cash-rich oil ministry charge to Hardeep Singh Puri in the full glare of TV cameras.

More than seven years after he took control on May 27 (2014), Pradhan's demotion to the cash-poor education ministry marks the end of one of the longest oil ministry careers India has suffered. No longer can he exert feudal control over some of the country's wealthiest state-owned oil, gas and steel companies or treat their supine directors and chairmen as household help or drivers on demand.

Gone too is the extortion that saw PSU advertising, CSR and other non-core budgets diverted to his home state Odisha or on whimsical pet projects, mainly in Odisha. Surprisingly, none of this, or his infamous arrogance, insults or poor English, triggered Pradhan's downfall.

No, it was something more serious. A senior BJP decision-maker in Narendra's Modi's political heartland in Ahmedabad tells us Pradhan's ultimate undoing was his failure to raise national oil and gas output in his seven years as oil minister and, crucially, his inability to make a success of the Discovered Small Fields (DSF) regime through which Modi wanted, and still wants, to fast-track production.

"There are several reasons for his (Pradhan's) exit," says our BJP source. "But falling national oil production and his failure in DSF played a crucial role."

He adds: "Pradhan could not make a success of DSF; he had sufficient time to make it a success, but he could not." Five years have passed since DSF-1 in 2016, but only one of 31 areas in DSF-1 and 23 areas in DSF-2 has gone into commercial production: Kolkata based Nippon Power, with its two DSF-1 blocks - the 2.35-sq km CB/ONDSF/Kamboi/2016 block and the 9.15-sq km CB/ONDSF/West Bechraji/2016 block, both in Gujarat.

"Last month (June) production started at one of these blocks," confirms an ONGC source. "A tanker was loaded with crude and sent to our tank farm."