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ONGC told to rope in ally for Sudan project

New Delhi, Dec. 5: The government has advised Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) not to go solo on the $800-million downstream refinery and oil pipeline project that it proposes to take up in Sudan, saying there is a need to include other firms so that the risks in the venture can be spread.

Sources said the all-powerful committee of secretaries, which includes the finance secretary, is of the view that pumping in $800 million by a single Indian company entailed too big a risk.

The investment is being made as a follow-up to the $600 million investment that ONGC has already made for a 25 per cent stake Upper Nile oilfield in Sudan.

Petronas, the Malaysian national company, and Chinese national companies are the other partners in the oilfield.

Senior officials are of the view that the follow-up exercise is turning out to be bigger that the original investment that it has to secure.

This argument is reported to have stumped ONGC chairman Subir Raha who was earlier keen on ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) taking up both the refinery and the pipeline project on its own. Raha, a former Indian Oil Corporation hand, was confident that OVL could swing the job and was reluctant to include even his old company in the project.

However, with the new instructions from the government he will have to scout for more partners and could even offer a stake to the Malaysian and Chinese counterparts to form a consortium for the downstream project as well. Indian private sector companies could also be offered a stake in the project.

Raha is now reported to be of the view that he does not mind adopting the consortium approach as long as OVL is the major stakeholder.

The Sudan government wants OVL to take up the job immediately and has even hinted that it could give the project to some other company.

However, the Indian government is of the view that OVL should not rush into such a huge project and wants all the pros and cons carefully weighed in order to safeguard the investment.

Sudan energy minister Awad Ahmed El Jazz will arrive here tomorrow. On Monday, he will hold discussions with his Indian counterpart Ram Naik in an attempt to expedite the project.

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