The leisurely pace at which slothful bureaucratic public sector enterprises (PSEs) are being privatised is costing the public heavily in terms of loss production and high prices. A case in point is the public sector Oil & Natural Gas Co Ltd (ONGC) which has totally belied its early promise.
Way back in 1980, on the occasion of ONGC’s first major sub-sea oil strike in Bombay High which generated tremendous enthusiasm countrywide, your editor wrote the first cover story on ONGC under the euphoric title ‘Here it comes 500,000 barrels per day!’ for Business India.
At that time under the dynamic leadership of engineer-technologist N.K.V. Prasad, specially appointed by prime minister Indira Gandhi, there was every possibility of India becoming a major producer of crude oil, natural gas and petroleum. Prasad believed it was impossible that the huge Indian subcontinent and its territorial waters didn’t host large oil reserves.
Typically with ONGC transforming into a valuable national asset and one of the country’s largest importers of oil exploration and drilling equipment, Prasad didn’t last long in ONGC. The cuts and commissions-hungry neta-babu brotherhood took charge and a succession of pliant chairmen were appointed. As a result, ONGC’s crude oil production over the past half century has crept up to a mere 19 million tonnes per year. Consequently, energy-hungry India is one of the largest importers of crude oil worldwide, with 80 percent of the demand for oil and petroleum products imported at huge cost to the public treasury (Rs.75 lakh crore per year).
Somewhat belatedly the Modi government is exerting pressure on ONGC to step up its exploration and production or permit Indian and foreign oil companies to drill ONGC’s rich, unexplored and dormant fields. But this is being resisted by the corporation’s overpaid employees and closest commies who support their dog-in-manger justifications. Meanwhile by a curious anomaly, the June-September quarter profit of ONGC — Rs.18,348 crore — is its highest ever recorded quarterly profit. But the company’s crude oil production declined by 3.8 percent. Go figure!