'Govt has no intention of taking over PNGRB's role'
With oil regulator PNGRB being rendered dysfunctional, the Petroleum Ministry on Thursday said it has no intention of taking over its functions like authorising laying of pipelines and giving CNG distribution licenses.
Speaking at a FICCI conference, Petroleum Secretary K D Tripathi justified the government, and not PNGRB, issuing an authorisation to state-owned GAIL for laying a natural gas pipeline from Jagdishpur in Uttar Pradesh to Haldia in West Bengal to take the environment friendly fuel to cities like Varanasi - the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He said GAIL was given authorisation to lay the Jagdishpur-Haldia/Bokaro-Dhamra gas pipeline before the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) came into being in 2006-07.
PNGRB had in a letter dated October 25, 2016 objected to the ministry giving the authorisation instead of the regulator which by an Act of Parliament is the only sole authorising agency.
Tripathi however justified the authorisation saying, "it is a pre-PNGRB authorisation" and so GAIL can lay the line.
He however did not say why along with the pipeline authorisation GAIL was given the licence to sell CNG to automobiles and piped cooking gas to households in over half a dozen cities including Varanasi, Patna, Ranchi, Bhubaneshwar and Kolkata falling on the pipeline route.
Giving out city gas distribution (CGD) licence is sole prerogative of the PNGRB and GAIL's original authorisation from the government for laying the Jagdishpur-Haldia pipeline had no mention of such authorisation.
PNGRB gives licenses for CGD but it has since December last year become dysfunctional with the government not filling in vacancies caused by retirement of the Board chairman and three members. For the Board to function, a quorum of three members is needed. Currently there is only one member.
Tripathi said the ministry is not looking at taking over the functioning of PNGRB.
"It (the pipeline authorisation) should not be construed that its functions are being taken over (by the ministry). The government has its role, PNGRB has its role," he said.
Under the law, the government, he said, can issue policy directives to PNGRB.
"PNGRB will continue to do its bidding rounds (for CGD licences). I don't think there is any thinking (that) its functions should be taken over by the government," he said.
PNGRB was formed under an Act of 2006 and comprises of a chairperson, a member (Legal) and three other members appointed by the central government.
Chairperson S Krishnan retired in August 2015 while three other members PK Bishnoi, Kiran Kumar Jha and Subhash Chandra Batra (member-legal) retired last year. Batra was the last one to retire in December 2016. Basudev Mohanty is the only serving member on the board now.
While the rules provide for Board to decide on issues by a majority, but for the Board to meet a quorum of three members is necessary.
K D Tripathi also said that the government is currently in the process of extensively appraising the hydrocarbon potential in the country and National Data Repository programme has been launched to accumulate relevant data which could be provided to potential investors for making informed exploration decisions. The government has also revamped the process of procurement and assimilation of data to make it more precise and easily accessible to stakeholders.