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Unfilled Barrels: ONGC Academy organizes dialogue on journalist Richa Mishra’s new book

The ONGC Academy in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, organized a brief discussion on 'Unfilled Barrels' authored by senior journalist Richa Mishra. Richa Mishra is currently working as the Bureau Chief, Hyderabad and Kolkata of The Hindu Business Line and has been covering the oil trail since the late nineties.

The discussion was aired virtually on 10 May 2022. The newly-released book highlights the key role played by Keshav Dev Malaviya, who was called the father of the Indian petroleum industry. He was the petroleum minister in the 1970s with a degree in oil technology. The book discusses the emergence of other stakeholders from public sector enterprises, including ONGC, to the competitive private players like Cairn Energy and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited (RIL).

Terming hydrocarbons as ‘Black Gold’, Ms Mishra began the discussion by highlighting that the story of Indian oil has not been as dramatic as any other global story but it has been equally political and linked to power politics ever since oil was discovered in India in the late 19th century.

Ms Richa Mishra answering queries of the participants on her book
Ms Richa Mishra answering queries of the participants on her book

Aap Akbhaar mein kaam karte ho, toh yeh batao ki tel ka daam intna zyada kyun hai? (You work for a paper than tell us why petrol/diesel price remains so high?). I have been asked this question more often than not. In fact, being a reporter covering the oil ministry has not been easy,” she informed the people who participated in the discussion.

“Through this book, I try to recount India's upstream journey. It is very important to know the role which KD Malaviya played, or what ONGC stands for, why the new Exploration Licensing Policy is a game changer for the hydrocarbon industry, what an amazing player Cairn Energy was, what corporate war is, and finally how consistent is the governance in extending help to the country’s growing energy demands,” Ms Mishra added.

Reflecting on the idea that non-fiction books are usually boring to the readers, the journalist noted that the purpose was to show how you can write a non-fiction book in a fiction format so that anybody, including those who aren’t even related to the energy sector, can understand the politics behind it.

Ms Mishra also touched upon the issue of corporate wars and said that such rivalries exist, but if you ask anyone to speak about it, you won’t get an answer. There have always been corporate wars and they continue even today. Just that the degree and intensity of such wars today vary according to the time and depend on how much corporates are willing to take risks.

Similar is the case with lobbying. “Even ONGC has done it when looking forward to discovering Assets in the United States. The issue is that very many individuals are caught in the loop, including the government of respective countries and shareholders. Maintaining integrity at that time becomes very difficult. The reality, however, is that it still exists,” she explained further.

Ms Mishra also took questions from the participants during the session. Answering a query related to the impact of the ongoing Ukraine-Russia crisis on India’s energy sector, the journalist replied that a country’s decision should not be governed by emotions or diplomatic policies; instead, it should be based objectively on economic and technical considerations.

“If ONGC is taking a call, then why is the government interfering? There should be insulation from larger oil giants across the globe. We hadn’t prioritized our influence on either Iran or Russia earlier. If we only depend on the support provided by the US, then obviously India’s position at the UN and geopolitics will influence the structure of our energy security,” she explained.

Former Director - LBSNAA Dr Sanjiv Chopra, IAS (Retd), who was also the chief discussant, praised Ms Mishra for her impeccable work in the oil and gas industry.

Dr Sanjiv Chopra said that protecting energy resources for the nation holds utmost priority today
Dr Sanjiv Chopra said that protecting energy resources for the nation holds utmost priority today

Chairing the session, ED-ONGC Academy Manoj Barthwal noted that the hydrocarbon sector is very complex and hence, it becomes very difficult for a common man to configure the price of it.

“The early 20th century witnessed no competition as such but now the scenario is just the opposite. India produces around 15-17% of crude oil, while nearly 50% of the nation is still dependent on non-renewable sources of energy. It will be interesting to note through Richa’s book how much of the transition to green energy can actually take place in the coming years,” Barthwal said.

ED Head ONGC Academy Manoj  Barthwal speaking on the occasion
ED Head ONGC Academy Manoj Barthwal speaking on the occasion

The session concluded after Ms Mishra answered several questions of the participants.