Sparks fly over petroleum minister&’s remarks
statesman news service
NEW DELHI, 14 JUNE: Union petroleum and natural gas minister, Mr M Veerappa Moily, who has been facing criticism for proposing a sharp hike in natural gas prices, today made a sensational statement, saying that petroleum ministers are regularly “threatened” by “oil import lobbies” in a bid to thwart their decisions that could slash India’s staggering quantum of oil imports that amounted to a US $160 billion bill last fiscal.
Mr Moily’s stunning remarks instantly sparked political fireworks, with the Opposition parties asking him to disclose the identity of such import lobbies. He was also accused of being a “liar”, with questions being raised about why he is not taking punitive action against such lobbies “threatening” a Union minister.
Mr Moily has been in the line of the CPI leader, Mr Gurudas Dasgupta’s fire in recent weeks, who has accused him of trying to benefit Mr Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) by proposing a steep increase in gas pricing in the country.
Debunking such allegations, Mr Moily said he was making efforts to revive investors’ sentiments by ensuring the “right” price for gas. He said a “price correction” would help attract investments in the stagnant oil and gas exploration and would cause a higher domestic oil output and lesser reliance on oil imports.
“I am telling you with all sense of responsibility (that) we are floating in oil and gas in this country. And we don’t explore it. We put every obstruction not to do it. There are bureaucratic obstructions and delays,” Mr Moily told reporters.
“And also there are other lobbies. They don’t want us to stop imports. There are some lobbies who are working on that. Every minister is threatened many a times. Every minister who occupies this position is threatened,” the oil minister said.
Charging that the “decision-making process” is thus “obstructed (and) aborted”, he also asserted that “Moily cannot be threatened”. He, however, declined to identify anyone who might have directly or indirectly threatened oil ministers. “History will speak about it. It is for you to judge,” he said, adding oil imports will spiral if its domestic production is not given incentives through a right pricing policy. Mr Moily’s comments triggered a political furore. Sharpening his attack on him, Mr Dasgupta alleged that the oil minister was “lying” and “concocting false story” to help Reliance gain from his proposal on a hike in gas prices.
“This is a loot and he is a liar if he speaks of any import pressure,” Mr Dasgupta said, adding that public sector firms are the only firms importing oil and gas in the country, which cannot put such pressure on their minister.
“Does he (Moily) mean to say that these PSUs are exerting pressure on him? If so, why doesn’t he haul them up or initiate a CBI probe?” Mr Dasgupta asked describing the oil minister’s statements as “misleading, mischievous and dubious”. Slamming Mr Moily for proposing a steep hike in natural gas prices, Mr Dasgupta also said this gas pricing formula was being opposed by the ministries of power and fertilisers. The CPI leader has already written a couple of letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to seek his intervention in the matter. He stuck to his allegation that there was a major “scam” in the making. The BJP leader and ex-oil minister, Mr Ram Naik, said no pressure was brought on him during his five year tenure during 1999-2004 and that Mr Moily should name lobbies that supposedly have piled pressure on him or his Congress predecessors, such as S Jaipal Reddy, Murli Deora and Mani Shankar Aiyar. The Congress party shied away from making comments on Mr Moily’s claims. To a barrage of questions from reporters, Congress national spokesman Shakeel Ahmad maintained: “Mr Moily is a very competent, able and transparent minister. What he said, its context, details, evidence, his proposed action ~ all these are things which it is up to Mr Moily to explain.”
Every minister is threatened many a times. Every minister who occupies this position is threatened. ~ Mr Veerappa Moily
The oil minister is lying and concocting false story to help Reliance gain from his proposal on a hike in gas prices. This is a loot and he is a liar if he speaks of any import pressure. ~ CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta