Gangwar takes aim at Reliance

Vol 4, PW 17 (27 Sep 00) People & Policy

Blind courage, or simple naivety India's junior petroleum minister Santosh Gangwar is clearly not scared of Reliance Industries, the country's most feared corporate.

On September 12th, Gangwar criticised the "won't leave, won't do" policy of Reliance and its involvement in a gas cracker project at Lepetkota in Assam. "We are determined to get the project off the ground," Gangwar told a news conference on the sidelines of an investors summit in Calcutta, "But Reliance has been cribbing about this and that.

If they are not happy, they should get out of the project." Asked whether another promoter could be found to replace Reliance, Gangwar said: "Yes. Within months, someone will be up to do it." Asked to reveal details, he refused.

In June, hopes were high that Reliance Assam Petrochemicals and Oil India had settled differences over gas supply to the cracker and were ready to sign a contract. Since then progress has stalled.

"We have told Reliance we are not happy with their attitude," added Gangwar, "It is up to the Assam government to give an ultimatum." In signs of a split on the issue, oilminister Ram Naik has indicated continued support for Reliance's participation. On 26th August, Naik wrote to Assam industries minister Gunin Hajorika with an assurance that the boards of Reliance and Oil India will ratify an agreement soon.

Hajorike is unconvinced: "Our patience is running out," he tells Petrowatch, "I think Reliance is buying time. They don't want to give up the project but are in no mood to implement it either."