Vol 3, PW 11 (23 Jun 99) Midstream & Downstream

If ever there was a man desperate to encourage investment (foreign and domestic) in his tiny state, then Pabitra Kar, the Marxist Minister for Commerce & Industries, in the government of Tripura is that man.

In the last few days Kar has been unusually vocal with his criticism of ONGC, and the central government in Delhi, for ignoring his tiny state, reckoned to be (potentially) one of the most gas-rich in India. On 14 June at a seminar organised by ONGC in the state capital Agartala, Kar condemned his hosts for not accelerating their exploration programme.

He said ONGC has drilled just two of 21 exploration wells promised in Tripura before 2002. In its defence, ONGC responded that it requires central government permission for wells drilled to a depth of 5,000 metres, and that this is behind the delay.

Earlier in the month, Kar was in Delhi lobbying for money to build a domestic gas pipeline network, bemoaning the lack of central government investment. He stressed that Tripura today supplies 1,500 families in Agartala with piped gas but hopes to increase this to 3,500 families by the end of the year.

Kar met Santosh Gangwar, the junior oil minister, with a request for a Rs5.24 cr ($1.24m) grant to help build a local natural gas pipeline grid (Agartala City Gas Project) for supply of piped gas to 37,000 families in Agartala by 2002. The total cost of the project is estimated at Rs9.86 cr ($2.34m).

Theres little doubt that this tiny state of just 3m inhabitants has more gas than it needs. One estimate puts recoverable reserves at between 8-12 trillion cubic feet.

Any foreign investment, however, depends less on friendly politicians and more on the attitude of renegade insurgents roaming the countryside.