Why is Narendra Modi taking extra interest in oil pricing, asks Mani Shankar Aiyar

Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was also Petroleum Minister in the UPA-I government, on Saturday criticised the move to keep the oil ministry under a junior minister and wondered whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi intends to take an "over-riding interest in energy pricing".

PTI| Updated: Jun 27, 2014, 21:39 PM IST

Mumbai: Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was also Petroleum Minister in the UPA-I government, on Saturday criticised the move to keep the oil ministry under a junior minister and wondered whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi intends to take an "over-riding interest in energy pricing".

"Does it (having an MoS as oil minister) mean that the Prime Minister is going to take an over-riding interest in energy pricing," Aiyar said while speaking at a panel discussion on journalist and writer Paranjoy Guha Thakurta`s controversial book `Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis` at the Press Club here.

Stating that energy security is more critical than pricing, Aiyar, who had many run-ins with the oil industry players, especially Reliance Industries during his term in the ministry, said energy from fossil fuels is very important for the country`s economic development and made a case for a Cabinet rank minister handling the sector.

Modi, Aiyar said, should use his "clout" in the international community to secure assets from abroad.

The remarks come amidst a controversy over RIL seeking doubling of the price for natural gas, which many opponents claim will benefit the Mukesh Ambani-led company that operates the KG-D6 fields. The government racently deferred a decision on the issue by three months.

"The large business houses...Are now infiltrating the media, they are going to be much more powerful in future than they were in the past. Our model of economic development promotes oligarchy, it doesn`t promote perfect competition," he said.

Aiyar, who served as the oil minister for 20 months till January 2006 in UPA-I, said he had focused on energy security, but his successors abandoned the cause and shifted attention to oil pricing instead.

"The oil ministry has become more and more the ministry of petroleum and gas pricing whereas the national need now is to make it ministry of petroleum and gas security," he said.

Referring to the Ambani`s clout, Aiyar said, "since we have only one company in the private sector, the ministry of oil pricing has effectively become the `ministry of Reliance affairs."

The Congress veteran, however, rubbished talks of him being shunted out of the ministry due to his antipathy to corporate houses and said he was given the portfolio only temporarily.