Vol 3, PW 12 (07 Jul 99) People & Policy

Talk of extending the last date for receiving bids under the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) beyond 18 August has run into fierce opposition from the countrys premier organisation entrusted with the task of enhancing oil production- the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons.

"It will be a Himalayan blunder to extend the deadline once again", says Avinash Chandra, Director General, "This will send wrong signals to foreign investors. The credibility of the government is at stake".

The bid closure date had earlier been extended from 18 May to 18 August to help interested companies, "undertake detailed analysis of the data, carry out required restructuring of the companies and arrange tie-ups for financial and equity support". Interestingly, it was Chandra who vociferously fought for the extension of the deadline, even advising multinationals to write to the petroleum secretary seeking an extension.

Now, however, a section of the government, led by the finance secretary Vijay Kelkar, a former oil secretary (See also: 2--RELIANCE GLAD TO SEE THE BACK OF VIJAY KELKAR) is pressing for the extension in view of the hostilities with Pakistan and forthcoming elections. Chandra, previously close to Kelkar, is determined to oppose the move, "tooth and nail".

He is confident that the national oil companies (ONGC, IOC) will bid fiercely for the exploration blocks on offer. Moreover, according to him, the number of data packages sold shows "there is a great enthusiasm among foreign investors for Indian geology".

This enthusiasm, according to Chandra, could wane if the government continues to extend the deadline.