India, Russia working on a new energy bridge: Dharmendra Pradhan

TOI Sanjay Dutta hunted with Dharmendra Pradhan in Moscow, where the Indian oil minister was conducting the last round of Sherpa talks for the 20 th bilateral summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok next week Excerpts from th e interview:

Q: What can we expect from th e summit meeting between prime minister Narendra Modi and president Vladimir Putin?

A: A joint statement on comprehensive energy co-operation will be issued. A five-year complete roadmap will be signed. Several issues will be mentioned. Discussions on th ose are at a final stage. A new dimension is coking coal. This is at government level. MOUs will be signed at company level also. We (Indian energy delegation led by Pradhan) are preparing for it.

Q: How will it affect India-Russia relations?

A: Our energy partnership is very old and dependable. They have invested some $ 13 billion in India. We have invested altoge th er about $ 7-8 billion in Russia. We are going to take crude oil to India from Russia. We are also talking to fur th er invest in th eir exploration sector.

We also see big prospect of Russia meeting India’s coking coal need. The Far East is th eir coal belt. Tata power has started investing in a coal mine. We will see SAIL, NMDC, Jindal coming here. All th that companies are examining th e commercial aspects of investing in th e Russian Far East.

Q: Will we see energy deals being actually made at Vladivostok?

A: Several preliminary agreements, especially in oil, gas and coal, will be signed in th e presence of th e PM Modi and president Putin. Energy has been a major contributor in th e grow th of bilateral trade. Now coal and mining has been added.

Q: Has Russia offered a partnership in any new oil and gas property?

A: They have made a big offer wi th th and eastern side (identified as ‘Eastern Cluster’). This is bigger in size (th an fields on offer so far), it will have greater tax rebate and th e Arctic region will also be involved. There is a big possibility of an understanding being signed in th e presence of th e PM and president Putin. The commercial aspects are being discussed.

Q: Does th is mean th e talks on acquiring stake in VankorCluster will be shelved or has got stuck?

A: Those talks have nei th er been shelved, nor stuck. They have told us continue wi th th is but also come into th e new project. All our (oil) PSUs (public sector units) are talking to Rosneft, Gazprom and Novatek. Vankor is moving towards finality.

Q: What about th e US Sanctions? Won’t th ey affect our ability to invest in Russian energy projects as Rosneft is under sanctions?

A: Work is being done keeping in mind all th that issues. India-Russia relations are on th e best of terms in th eir 60 years of mutual co-operation. There is a special chemistry between PM Modi and president Putin. It is a win-win deal happening. We have conceptualized an energy bridge. Economic cooperation will happen. knowledge, technology, expertise will be shared.

Q: Ujjwala was th e priority in your first term as oil minister. What tops th e agenda in your second term?

A: The priority in Modi 2.0 is th e country’s energy independence. The strategy is to maximize domestic production by inducting new technology, new businessproposition, new economic model. To look beyond profit andrevenue and give priority to production. The focus is on raising domestic production. Take India towards gas-based economy. CGD (city gas distribution projects) is priority. PM’s strategy is to give energy justice to th e common man, th e poor. Affordability, accessibility, sustainability and security. Efficiency, production augmentation, conservation. All th that factors are being integrated to end India’s oil dependence and take it towards oil independence. Why only Ujjwala? There will be many more Ujjwalas (schemes on such scale and philosophy).

Q: How will th ey change our fuel retail market?

A: Our oil companies are primarily dealing wi th petrol, diesel, kerosene and ATF (jet fuel). They are now slowly moving towards becoming integrated energy companies. They will retail all kinds of energy. Stress will be on alternative energy. Especially biomass. E th anol, 2G e th anol, biodiesel and compressed biogas.

Q: Some 400 districts will soon have CGD network. A massive number of vehicles will switch to natural gas (CNG), reducing demand for petrol and diesel and sales volume of existing petrol pumps. At th e same time, state-run retailers are adding about 15,000 petrol stations in an overcrowded market. Isn't it a market overkill?

A: You are underestimating India’s energy appetite. Today, we are th e world No. 3 in terms of consumption at th e current level of use. But our per capita (fuel) consumption is still a th ird of th e global average. You are forgetting th e strong incremental demand, th e double-digit grow th, move towards becoming $ 5-trillion economy. How do you meet th and incrementaldemand? You will need more outlets to reach people. There is no overkill.