On 13 March 2003 newspapers reported that Shell India (Pvt.) Ltd. , a subsidiary of the Shell group of companies has been allowed to market transportation fuel in India. Shell will be investing Rs 2,000 crore in building infrastructure in the hydrocarbon sector and plans to set up around 2,000 retail outlets across the country.
This marks the return of Shell to India after a gap of 3 decades. Shell’s business (and of other MNC Oil companies) was nationalised in 1972 and they were kicked out of India. Nationalisation of early 70s got this strategic sector back with the Govt. of India and proved a key to energy security. That this was a far-sighted decision has been amply demonstrated by the sterling performance of oil sector PSUs year after year. HPCL and BPCL, now on the disinvestment block, are by government’s own yardstick among “Navratna” (Nine Jewels – as of Akbar’s court) companies.
Market deregulation and competition has brought out the best in them and current year’s performance of HPCL, BPCL proves the point.
After the events in Iraq even the most rabid market fundamentalist will be hesitant in arguing that oil is just another commodity. Even the most gullible have understood that continued domination and control over “energy sources” is key to “free markets” of the US type. There are different rules for oil because giant western economies would come to a halt without cheap oil (See box). Imperialist countries have understood it all along – long before OPEC came into existence to give them an “oil shock”.
They knew it in Iraq for more than 50 years where Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), a consortium of British and US oil giants, owned the entire territory of Iraq and looted it, before it was nationalised (See Box). They have known it in Nigeria and other African countries where they are deeply involved with dictatorial and repressive regimes in actively suppressing dissent and murdering activists. They have shown scant regard for local population and its ecological degradation.
In view of this, one would have expected that there would be more circumspection in government circles. However, Indian government is of different mettle – it has excused itself of all obligations towards developing India as an independent political and economic force. It aspires to be a regional pillar in the US hegemonistic scheme of things. And what better way to welcome victors home than to give them a red carpet welcome.