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Security screen in oil hunt

Port Blair, April 20 (PTI): The government is likely to debar certain countries from bidding for some oil and gas blocks to be offered in the fourth round of the New Exploration and Licensing Policy (NELP), to be announced in the first week of May.

“Defence consideration is utmost in our mind while going for exploration,” petroleum minister Ram Naik said today.

The defence ministry is believed to have suggested that companies from China, Pakistan, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and the entire Arab world be kept out of the bidding process for the two oil and gas blocks to be offered in the Andaman and Nicobar islands due to security concerns.

Refusing to elaborate on the security concerns raised by the defence ministry, Naik said he would hold another round of discussions with defence minister George Fernandes towards the end of this month where modalities on the blocks to be offered would be worked out.

Incidentally, Fernandes is on a week-long tour of China for improving ties. Petroleum ministry officials said the entire list of countries suggested by the defence ministry may not be barred from NELP-IV bidding.

Naik said the government was likely to offer about 25 oil and gas blocks, including two in the deepwaters of Andaman & Nicobar region, in May.

“Our objective is to exploit oil and gas from the two blocks,” he said. The minister already had two rounds of discussions with the defence ministry to finalise terms for blocks to be offered in security sensitive regions.

Besides prohibiting companies from certain countries, the defence ministry had also wanted Indian firms to lead the consortiums bidding for blocks in Andaman offshore as majority shareholders.

The petroleum ministry was, however, opposed to the blanket ban and cited public sector ONGC Videsh Limited taking 25 per cent stake in a producing oil field in Sudan where the partners were Chinese and Malaysian national oil companies, sources said.

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