Union Petroleum and steel minister Dharmendra Pradhan spoke to Rajeev Jayaswal about the challenge of delivering cooking gas cylinders to 274 million consumers during the lockdown period, the impact of the rise and fall in crude oil prices, the push for energy security, new supply contracts with the US and Russia, and the role public and private players in the oil sector, among other issues. Edited excerpts:
Soon after the national lockdown to check the spread of Covid-19 began, the government announced that it would give free cooking gas cylinders to poor households for three months. What is the progress?
The government has proposed to give free refills for PMUY (Prime Minister Ujjwala Yojana) consumers for a period of three months with financial assistance of Rs 13,500 crore. The scheme has been operational since April 1. As on May 31, Rs 8,494 crore have been transferred to the bank account of beneficiaries though DBT (direct benefit transfer). And the beneficiaries have availed the delivery of 852.49 lakh (over 85 million) cylinders under the PM Gareeb Kalyan Yojana.
Low oil prices provided good fiscal space to the government to mobilise resources to fight Covid-19. But crude oil prices have started rising now. Does this worry you?
This may not be a matter of worry. The OMCs (oil marketing companies) are basically dependent on cracks — the difference in the prices of crude and petroleum products in the international markets — for their profitability, and not on the crude prices alone. I would say that high volatility in prices is in nobody’s interest. India always looks for a reasonable and responsible price regime.