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Telecom fee row over IOC pipeline

New Delhi, Feb. 6: The petroleum ministry has locked horns with the department of telecommunications (DoT) over the 10-fold hike in charges that Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has been asked to pay for its optic-fibre cable along the Kandla-Bhatinda oil pipeline.

Sources disclose that while IOC used to pay Rs 16 lakh as annual fee earlier, it has now been asked to cough up Rs 1.62 crore.

Senior officials are of the view that the hike is not justified as IOC has laid the cable and is also maintaining and running the system without any assistance from DoT.

The impression among IOC officials is that DoT 'is looking for easy pickings and expects the oil major to shell out the money without any protest as it is a cash-rich company'.

The optical-fibre cable based digital telecommunication system installed by IOC provides for round-the-clock operation, monitoring and control of the 1443-km Kandla-Bhatinda pipeline. The system caters to speech and data transmission, subscriber dialling and management conferencing facilities among all stations so that the pipeline can be operated in a fool-proof manner.

IOC had also tried to lease out the excess bandwidth of its optic-fibre capacity to private telecom operators. But the move did not come through as operators were not willing to pay enough.

'The small amounts that the telecom operators were offering was not worth the trouble. Leasing out the cable at such low rents would have turned out to be a nuisance for the company,' a senior officer said.

The pipeline was initially installed to supply diesel, petrol and kerosene to the industrially and agriculturally rich northwest but is now being converted into a crude oil pipeline.

The switch is being made as the petroleum major now has sufficient refining capacity to cater to the northwestern region and needs to import more crude oil to feed its refineries.

With the expansion of the Panipat refinery underway, it will need more imported crude. The pipeline will also help supply more crude oil to IOC's Mathura refinery.

The pipeline provides an efficient and eco-friendly way of transporting crude as it does not create any air, water or solid effluents.

The pipeline, which begins its route with the marshy areas at Kandla, traverses dry zones, sand dunes, undulating agricultural fields, hilly and rocky region, forest land, and a series of canals, rivers in its long journey to Bhatinda. Afforestation has been taken up on 44 hectares along the pipeline with the assistance of respective authorities in the states concerned.

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