The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panel pricks oil merger bubble

New Delhi, July 11: The oil advisory committee is not in favour of a merger of the public sector companies to create a behemoth. Instead, in its report submitted to petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar today, the panel has suggested greater autonomy for oil PSUs by transferring government shares into a professionally managed trust.

The committee on synergy in energy, headed by V. Krishnamurthy, felt consumers would benefit from the present competition among Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum, Aiyar said.

Instead of a merger, the committee wants to set up a national shareholding trust on the lines of Temasek of Singapore and Khazanah of Malaysia, but with some modifications to suit the Indian context.

The companies, which will join the trust, will continue to retain their public sector character. The trust, run by a professional board, will function as a non-profit institution set up either under the Societies Registration Act or the Companies Act or as a statutory body.

Stressing the need for an integrated energy policy, the panel suggested setting up of a cabinet committee on energy headed by the Prime Minister and a separate energy ministry.

It has suggested setting up a parallel organisation ' under Oil India Ltd (OIL) ' to ONGC Videsh for acquiring oil and gas fields abroad.

While OVL will be allowed to bid for hydrocarbon assets above 2 million tonnes of oil equivalent, smaller fields can be picked up by the OIL-led consortium, which is to be called Oil India Videsh Ltd.

The committee also wants to revamp the existing framework of supervision by the comptroller and auditor-general of India (CAG), Central Bureau of Investigation, Central Vigilance Commission and Public Enterprises Selection Board.

It is in favour of setting up a pre-investigation board with former oil PSU chiefs and government and private sector representatives to look into issues before the audit and investigative agencies are allowed to step in.

The panel has also emphasised the need to empower the directorate general of hydrocarbons so that it emerges as an autonomous body with a separate cadre of experts and has an access to funds.

Aiyar said, “The petroleum ministry will take around six weeks to study the report.”

He said the advisory committee would not be dissolved with the submission of the report and its members would be consulted for clarifications.

Some of the recommendations such as setting up a cabinet committee on energy and a separate ministry were beyond the purview of the petroleum ministry.

Such recommendations will be forwarded to the higher authorities for a final decision.

Aiyar said the recommendations were entirely those of the experts of the committee. These include former bureaucrat Gopi Arora, former petroleum secretary V. L. Kelkar, former ONGC chief B. C. Bora and former Bharat Petroleum chairman U. Sundararajan.

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