Nagaland state prepares to welcome explorers

Vol 13, PW 14 (17 Dec 09) People & Policy

India’s volatile but prospective northeastern state of Nagaland is working on a uniform set of rules to govern new Petroleum Exploration Licenses (PELs) and Petroleum Mining Leases (PMLs).

Exploration and production in the state has been halted for the last 15 years since 1994 when militants forced ONGC out at gunpoint. PETROWATCH learns a seven-member multi-party state government panel headed by TR Xeliang, Nagaland minister of planning, coordination and parliamentary affairs, has begun working on rules to ensure that upstream companies and local landowners cooperate.

The panel was given a six-month deadline until February 15, 2010 but held its first meeting only on December 10 this year. A second meeting is planned in early January 2010.

Xeliang tells this report the panel will consult tribal councils and local landowners to correct errors and loopholes in the current system of awarding PELs and PMLs. He says the current PEL system was imposed by central government in Delhi without the consent of local landowners.

Xeliang accuses ONGC and Delhi of trying to bypass Article 371-A of the Indian Constitution, which is clear that Acts passed by the Indian parliament do not apply to Nagaland unless approved by the Nagaland assembly. “This has caused resentment among local landowners,â€‌ we hear.

“Without their consent, no exploration can take place.â€‌ In Nagaland, landowners demand profit sharing and royalties for E&P on their land.

“Even if we send in the army to provide security,â€‌ he says, “nothing can begin unless landowners give permission. Government licenses are worthless in Nagaland if landowners don’t allow explorers on their plots.

â€‌ Not in doubt is that the panel won’t meet its February 15 deadline to complete the new rules and will seek an extension to March 31.

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