| Caught in the loop
New Delhi, Aug. 28: The government has decided to defer a meet on divesting the two state run oil marketing giants—Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum—slated to be held tomorrow and postpone it till September 6, after differences cropped up within the Cabinet over the issue.
Sources said the defence ministry wanted to be involved in the meeting as it believed sales in the oil sector could have security ramifications.
Petroleum minister Ram Naik, who is leaving tomorrow night for a trip to Brazil, today denied any knowledge of the defence ministry’s interest in the meet. “It is not being postponed because of me. I am available tomorrow but the meeting is not taking place for some other reasons,” he said.
The disinvestment ministry has already circulated an agenda paper which calls for selling strategic interests in these two companies and debarring other state run companies from bidding for it. The disinvestment ministry wants to flog 36 per cent stake in BPCL and 26 per cent in HPCL to strategic investors. Among those interested in these two companies are Reliance Petro and Shell.
The petroleum ministry is, however, opposed to disallowing state run companies from bidding for these two companies, arguing that such a move would mean denial of a level playing field to them. The ministry had, in fact, wanted to postpone the sale altogether and instead go in for small public issues for these two companies, a note for which has also been circulated for the Cabinet. Naik is likely to raise this issue and point out that the CCD cannot rule over an issue which has already been referred to a larger body—the Union Cabinet.
Naik’s ministry has, however, agreed to the disinvesment ministry’s plan for offloading minority stakes in ONGC and GAIL in the marketplace. This too is likely to figure in the CCD meeting whenever it takes place.
The government today received 45 bids for some 23 oil and gas exploration blocks put on offer in the third round of bidding. Only blocks in Bengal, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh could not attract any bidder, as these blocks are not considered attractive.