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What happened to Chidambaram's Main Hoon Na?

Ram Naik | July 23, 2008

Ram Naik, Union petroleum minister in the Vajpayee government, on the Manmohan Singh government's effort in managing the situation in view of rising global oil prices:

It is true that the international prices of crude have been increasing. They were increasing during our regime also, but not to this extent. We opened the diesel and petroleum prices in 2002 -- you can say there was a decontrol.

Thereafter, we kept a watch, every 15 days we looked into whether it was increasing or decreasing. The oil companies would work in consultation with me. If there was an increase in the international market, we increased prices to a certain extent, when it reduced, we reduced prices.

When the price rise was little more, we reduced the import and excise duty rates. When prices were reduced because international prices had gone down, people got the benefit. This type of exercise has been totally discontinued.

Immediately after this government came to power, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar and later Murli Deora, they used to say we will have a price policy but no price policy has evolved in four years.

When we were in power, whenever the situation warranted the prime minister, petroleum minister, finance minister and commerce minister would sit together. Now the situation is such that they are looking in different directions. The petroleum minister is publicly saying he wants the excise and import duties reduced, but the finance minister is not agreeing. The joint action that we used to do, is also missing.

Whatever duties have been reduced now, once the prices were increased, that should have been done two years back -- when the finance minister was mopping higher revenues.

On the windfall tax controversy:

There is a talk nowadays of imposing windfall tax. The maximum windfall gain is for the finance minister because as the prices were going up, he was also getting more revenue.

In the interest of the nation, the economy and the consumers, he should have come forward and once he got whatever revenue he had expected in his budget, he should have passed whatever more he got to some extent to the oil companies which are government companies and to some extent to the consumers.

The oil companies are on the brink of insolvency. This is a very sorry state of affairs that Murli Deora has brought the petroleum sector to. But I would blame the prime minister more because he is a finance man but he did not act.

On the government's constraints because oil prices have never been at such an all time high:

I agree with that, but that doesn't mean that he should go one repeating the same argument. What have you done when the situation is going out of control in the international market?

Why did they remain so quiet and silent for so long? Compare the prices of 2004 with 2008 -- there has been such a heavy increase. In the Budget speech when MPs were expressing their views about price increase, the finance minister's response was 'Main hoon na' and now he has become helpless. Allowing things to go out of control is an administrative failure.

I pity Mr Murli Deora when he publicly says that the finance minister is not responding, this is not the way the Cabinet functions.

On the measures taken when the National Democratic Alliance was in power:

We invested Rs 9,000 crore in the Sakhalin project (in Russia) for production of crude oil in 2003. At that time the Congress had criticised it, saying we were investing in junk. Now for the last two years we have started getting crude from there -- which is our crude at our price. We are not required to pay the international price for that oil, we have a share in it.

We also invested Rs 3,500 crores in an oil field in Sudan and that crude started coming in 2003. In just two years the investment was paid off. Now we are getting oil at 5 or 6 dollars a barrel. That kind of initiative is needed for some more oil fields, nothing has been done on that count.

Ram Naik spoke to Archana Masih


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