Workers fight ONGC asset transfer to Oil India

Vol 24, PW 18 (29 Jul 21) People & Policy

After weeks of silence, ONGC unions are waking up to the threat of a wholesale transfer of ONGC's northeast assets to Oil India.

On July 12 (2021), Sanjeeb Boruah, general secretary of the Sivasagar-based ONGC Purbanchal Employees' Association, wrote of his "anguish and immense disappointment" at Assam chief minister Himanta Sarma's June 5 (2021) proposal to Narendra Modi that "only one integrated company rooted in the northeast (Oil India) can focus with undivided attention on resource exploitation." Addressed to ONGC chairman Subhash Kumar, Boruah argues that ONGC "has built a strong emotional connect with the people of Assam and the northeast" over 60 years through a "labour of love" and that any asset transfer would be a mistake.

"Handing over these resources to Oil India is nothing short of dishonouring our (ONGC) employees," writes Boruah. As an example, he cites Rs313cr ($42m) ONGC spent on a flagship hospital for the poor at Rajabari in Jorhat district.

Boruah adds that since its inception, the Nazira-based Assam asset has drilled up to 700 wells, operates 43 production installations, 16 drilling rigs, one testing rig, 15 workover rigs, four logging units, four fire stations, and a network of 360-km trunk and 1200-km flowlines. Equally forthright are protests from the Agartala-based gas-rich Tripura asset, ONGC's only profit-making centre in the northeast.

On July 20, Tusar Majumdar, general secretary of the ONGC Workers Union, called on Narendra Modi to reject any "risky restructuring of ONGC and Oil India" warning that it "would result in Oil India becoming a sick upstream company." Majumdar argues that Oil India lacks the financial firepower to absorb ONGC infrastructure or 6000 full-time staff and 15,000 affiliate workers ONGC employs in the northeast.

Majumdar adds because of its ageing fields ONGC registers an annual loss of Rs1300cr ($175m) in the northeast - enough to wipe out half of Oil India's annual Rs2600cr ($350m) profit after tax (PAT). Calling on Modi to "stop the move", Majumdar stresses "Oil India is not in a position to maintain or utilise such huge (ONGC) infrastructure."