Interim Budget 2019 to be growth-oriented futuristic: Dharmendra Pradhan

A prominent achievement the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is highlighting ahead of the Lok Sabha (LS) elections this year is Ujjwala, the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) programme for the poor. Days before this government’s last Budget is presented, Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, and Skill Development DHARMENDRA PRADHAN speaks to Shine Jacob and Jyoti Mukul about spearheading the programme, his unfinished task, political challenges, and Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into active politics. Edited excerpts:


What have been the major achievements of your tenure?


No economy in the world can work without giving priority to the energy sector. Our per capita energy consumption is still one-third of the world average. Our government recognised this and hence, from Day One, we focused on availability, accessibility, affordability, and sustainability — we talked about energy justice.


We emphasised augmenting production through a series of de-bottlenecking measures by means of the NELP (New Exploration Licensing Policy) and pre-NELP regimes. We made policies open, transparent, and pro-business. We brought in reforms like HELP (Hydrocarbon Exploration Licensing Policy).


In addition to this, we assessed data and introduced a data repository, brought in enhanced oil recovery/improved oil recovery policy (EoR/IoR), have given marketing freedom, revisited royalty and cess regimes, and given incentives for producers.


Our priority is production, not revenue. The government will get revenue only if there is production. To fit in all this, a welfare scheme like Ujjwala is our achievement. It took 60 years for previous governments to make cooking fuel available for 55 per cent of the population and we almost doubled it in these five years.


This (petroleum and natural gas ministry) is not just an infrastructure or economic ministry anymore. We have implemented the world’s largest direct benefit transfer for LPG seamlessly. Whatever commitments of governance we made in 2014 — including pro-poor policy, minimum government, and maximum governance, Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, or ease of doing business — we have fulfilled all these promises.


Is there any task you would like to complete if voted to power again?


In some of the things that we have done in upstream, its gestation period will be 7-10 years. We want to come up with the concept of common facility. For the energy industry, from production to distribution, if facilities are shared, the consumer can be provided products at a much cheaper rate. If four-five companies are working in one sector, why can’t they make a joint facility and share cost and revenue? Ultimately, the profitability of companies will increase and the government will also get more revenue.


We have started work to convert the rich biomass in our country into energy. This needs to be speeded up in the coming days.


When the retail prices of petrol and diesel went up last year, we heard these products would be brought under the goods and services tax (GST). But now there is no talk of bringing them under the GST.


It’s not been long since the country implemented the GST. Even if this government wants, it cannot bring anything under the GST until the state governments agree. As long as there is no two-thirds majority in the GST Council, this cannot be decided. States are rightly apprehensive about their own income. But with state revenue stabilising, the consensus will emerge. I am positive that the GST Council will move towards it.


As a representative of the petroleum sector, what is your expectation from the Budget?


This Budget will be growth-oriented and futuristic, with more spending from the government and the private sector. Being in charge of the energy sector, our expectation is that if there is consistency and growth, our industry will benefit and the demand for diesel, petrol, aviation turbine fuel, lubricants, and gas will increase. Sales will happen because of growth and through sales our margins will increase. I am confident Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Budget will be a developmental one.


With the LS elections round the corner, what will be your government’s message to the people, particularly in the energy sector?


We have fulfilled whatever we promised. This government is dedicated to the poor. We have kept inflation in check. We said this would be poor people’s and women’s government and we made poor women beneficiaries of LPG. We brought a vision for more employment for the youth through Make In India. This was a more business-friendly government. We have created an aspiration among the new generation. There is faith in Modi. All this will bring in a mandate in his favour.


There is the formation of the mahagatbandhan (Grand Alliance) against the BJP, while the Congress, too, is consolidating its position. Do you think it will be more difficult for the BJP than it was in 2014?


We faced the same parties in 2014 also. Those who were with us, with the exception of Chandrababu Naidu, continue to be with us and Nitish Kumar has joined us. In all other states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana, Himachal, and Karnataka, we will be facing the same parties.


Unlike last time, you have five years of rule, on which the Opposition will raise questions.


Those who did not work will have to face questions. We have worked for the welfare of the people. I want to speak for my ministry. After Independence, people had to wait with coupons at the doorstep of their MPs for LPG connections. We have provided LPG at the doorstep of those who were at the bottom of the pyramid. We have reached out to 40 million houses by providing electricity. All villages in the country have electricity now. In roads, rail, and the aviation industry, there has been a remarkable transformation.


With the entry of Priyanka Gandhi, will the Congress be strengthened, especially in eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP)?


That is an internal matter of the Congress. Priyanka was there previously also. She is not new to politics. She is very much part and parcel of the Congress’ political movement. They cannot think beyond that family. It is not a democratic or cadre-based party. It’s a feudal party. She was in charge of UP in 2017, 2014, and even in 2004. What’s new in that? What role they will give to each other is their issue.


How do you rate the Odisha government?


The BJP will form the government in Odisha and will win more than 15 parliamentary seats there. The government there is corrupt, inefficient, stagnant, and insensitive. Hence, a backlash has started and a huge mood for parivartan (change) is there. The BJP will reap the benefit of it. In the state, the Congress is sold out to the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and is their B-Team. Hence, the Congress is a distant third force in Odisha today. The fight is between the BJD and BJP and we are emerging as the No. 1 party.

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