The early planners of the Indian scientific establishment, in their firm belief that the network of institutes and laboratories they had given birth to would usher in a new era of 'advanced' science, threw behind it the weight of their patronage. But Indian society went on, impelled by its inner dynamics, largely set into motion by the rapacity of the middleman (a significant section of the industrial capitalists too will come under this heading). In the Indian ruling classes' scheme of things, a well-carried-out science policy finds no place. For example gestational research and development and short term killings on a sellers' market are poles apart. So, as long as India is dominated by the middleman, science will not meet national problems head on. The atmosphere, the encouragement and the funds will not be forthcoming. Science will continue to be a pantomime. Given this ambience it is not surprising that scientific establishments are run on hierarchical lines and alienated scientists are thrown up. What happens when a nation's scientists are alienated and a time arrives when their services are needed more .than ever? The case of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) illustrates what happens.

At the moment India consumes about 34 million tons (MT) of crude oil, two thirds of which is imported. The import bill amounts to 90% of our total export earnings, which at present means Rs. 6,000 crores. This could rise to 17,000 crores m 1985—86 which would be 150% of our total export earnings at that time. The" demand for consumption could increase from the 35 MT today to 41 MT by 1993 and be as high as 92 MT by the turn of the century. The OPEC price in 1973 was §2 a barrel. Now it is $35 a barrel, and by 1990 could be as high as $300—$400 per barrel.

The inner imperatives of contemporary Indian economy demand' increasing consumption of petroleum and natural gas. The enormous strain on our foreign exchange resources and the tight international credit market necessitate a well-thought-out oil policy. A long run strategy has to be developed that takes into account: (1) lead time to develop an economy equilibrated at a lower petro-energy consumption level (2) international trends with regard to oil prices, survey, exploration and extraction equipment prices (3) need to achieve self-sufficiency (4) capability of ONGC scientists (5) foreign exchange position (6) conditions in the international credit market, etc. However, the Government, throwing aside all ideas of conserving oil for a future and more needy time, has decided Ion a heightened extraction level, thereby reducing the life of our resources. The wisdom of this move itself is in question. Not only this, the path chosen for accelerated exploitation of the oil fields has involved a compromise of national interests and sell-out to multi¬national corporations. The already frustrated ONGC scientists have been further mocked at. A recent-event will serve to illustrate the Petroleum ministry's attitude.

CFP is a French firm who are consultants to ONGC for the Bombay High project. The approved plan is to step up production to 12 MT per annum by 1982. The question of increasing production from: 12 to 17 MT was posted by the Petroleum Minister, P. C. Sethi, directly to CFP without a careful and detailed examination of the problem and prospect with the ONGC. CFP were initially sceptical about it. They advocated the view that an increase in the volume of extraction of oil from a field should be carefully regulated lest the life span of the field be damaged, adversely affecting long-term recovery prospects. The conservationist view was shared by Oil India experts-in Assam. ONGC experts were" however willing to take the risks involved and initiated-exercises to improve production from Bombay High at a rapid rate beyond 12 MT to even a rate, of 17MT by the end-of 19-82 without active French participation. The Minister however pursued the CFP for a collaboration for heightened oil extraction. And CFP reversed their original conservationist stand. The Petroleum minister went to Paris for negotiations-with CFP in spite of reservations' expressed at ONGC. According to ONGC experts, there is hardly anything special that the French can bring to bear on the-job that ONGC is not capable of. The" consultancy contract had equipped the ONGC to further develop Bombay High on its own. Balraj Mehta writes in the Economic and Political Weekly (-EPW) of 28 Feb. 1981: " In all fairness the extension of the contract and the terms and conditions on which it should be done should be subject to a proper evaluation by ONGC's technical experts who alone are in a position to tell the extent to which the contract has already served a useful purpose and what more can be gained by way of acquisition of technology and know-how. The Petroleum Ministry has instead taken if upon itself to*deal with the French agency and even widen- the scope of the contract with "it. (The Petroleum Minister)- Sethi personally went to- Paris- and: entered into .negotiations with CFP........."

And what else should turn up at the Paris talks but product-sharing? Mehta continues in EPW "...that P.C. Sethi did not reject the idea outright shows the extent to which the government would be willing to go with the other companies that have evinced interest in off-shore oil exploration......if the French get 5% for this, the new companies coming in for exploration will get at least 20% of the Oil......P.C.Sethi's claim that no oil will be given away is totally unconvincing".

On his return to Delhi Sethi addressed a Press Conference refuting the criticism. Balraj Mehta describes: "But the sum and substance of his refutation was extra¬ordinary, to say the least. It amounted in effect to issuing threats against the ONGC and its technical personnel. Sethi emphatically turned down the claim that the ONGC scientists were in a position to do the job at Bombay High on their own and that there was no need for sharing any part of the precious oil with the CFP for this purpose..... (Sethi adds) The ONGC people should be ready to give in writing that they would accomplish the task proposed to be assigned to CFP and if they failed they should be ready to face the consequences". To drive home this lesson, Sethi said that many heads would roll if obstacles were put in his way by making such claims. The murmur at ONGC quietened down.

Apart from this big betrayal, even small mercies have been denied to the ONGC by the Petroleum Ministry. Recently multinational Corporations (MNC) were invited to prospect in our off-shore areas on terms highly unfavourable to us. The interests of the MNC and the host country are usually divergent. And all the more so in the case of the now-strategic oil. Self-sufficiency in oil for India could militate against the MNC's interests because: (a) it could mean loss of lucrative contracts in the future (b) it could mean loss of business for oil-selling companies (c) for geo-political reasons it would be convenient to have an India made pliable with the oil weapon. MNCs fuelled by these motives cannot obviously be trusted for such a vulnerable sector as oil. Balraj Mehta in the Indian Express of 6 Feb. 1981 described the government's stance "......unlike in 1974, the invitation to foreign oil companies including the oil majors is now unconditional and open-ended......It is now left to the foreign oil company to lay down terms and conditions and the government is willing to negotiate with them on that basis. The first condition that the oil majors have laid down is that the Indian agencies in the field; above—all the ONGC, must be totally barred from any association with this venture. The government has agreed to it with alacrity". And this deal has ended all dreams of self-sufficiency.

Mehta continues: "ONGC's pre-drilling geological and seismological data collected painstakingly is being offered almost gratis. What is more, the foreign companies have been assured conditions in which any data that they might collect will be their exclusive property. These arrangements will not only result in bartering away a good part of the oil wealth which may be discovered but also in passing into the hands of the foreign agencies vital information and knowledge of Indian land and off-shore areas to which Indian agencies will have no access......If only a fraction of foreign exchange spent on oil imports is committed to outright purchase of needed technology and expertise and the ONGC is strengthened and encouraged to understand the job at hand, it can be done; the returns in any case will be far more than will be the case after paying the costs involved in the proposed colloboration arrangement with foreign oil companies on such terms and conditions".

In fact, the ONGC's discovery to date of 586 MT of crude in the country has received a general opinion of commendability. That India has only one off-shore drilling rig "Sagarsamrat" out of a total of 586 drilling rigs in the world has had a major part in handicapping ONGC's off-shore explorations.

But the apologists for the ministry will argue: There is no other way for India to fulfill our desperate need for oil. It is high capital, high technology, and high risk ONGC is incapable of making it and MNCs are not available on anything else but their own terms. China has been humoured for geo-political reasons. We cannot expect such soft terms.........etc.

The implication seems to be that inefficiency is "inner nature" to ONGC. With an active demoraliser at the helm, can the ONGC scientists to be expected to be enthusiatic? Have the decision makers ever given the ONGC a real chance to prove its mettle? Is the ONGC organised scientifically, geared to the goal of developing self-reliance in oil technology? Instead, the decision-makers have adopted a policy of sell-out under the pretext that ONGC cannot deliver the goods. So, in sum, the natural development of the Indian economy discourages the growth of science in ONGC.

Author:Madras Group

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