Vol 2, PW 23 (09 Dec 98) People & Policy

Reliance Industries - Indias most feared corporation - is once more the darling of Indian officialdom.

In the next few days, Petronet-India, the pipeline company, is expected to permit Reliance, and its lesser known rival, Essar, a 10% stake in the companys equity. Reliance has lobbied hard for this privilege, and many argue the decision is overdue.

When it comes, however, it will reinforce suspicions of a nexus between three of the most powerful players in Indias oil sector: Vazhapadhi Ramamurthy, the Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas; Mohammed Pathan, Chairman, Indian Oil Corporation; and Dhirubhai Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Industries. Why Ramamurthy these days appears to be approving every Reliance proposal that lands on his desk, be it a a 3,000km pipeline network across India or a marketing joint venture with IOC.

Pathan also seems well disposed to Reliance. In the last issue of Petrowatch we reported how on 28 October he chaired an IOC board meeting to approve a deal to buy product from Reliance and Essars greenfield refineries in Gujarat.

Now this report learns learn that days before the IOC board approved the decision, an Indian oil ministry official, Nirmal Singh, Joint Secretary, Refineries - and a government nominee on the IOC board - was transferred to "other duties" because of his opposition to the deal. Only Reliance has the power to engineer such retribution.

Pathan, meanwhile, has announced that IOC wants a 50% stake in the proposed Reliance pipeline. There is little doubt that this and Reliances wish for 10% of Petronet-India will receive fast approval from Ramamurthy.

Pathan, incidentally, is also chairman of Petronet-India.

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