Vedanta group Cairn India
A bird flies by the Vedanta office building in Mumbai August 16, 2010.Reuters file

Opposition parties in Tripura, mainly the CPI-M and Congress, on Thursday strongly opposed the Centre's decision allowing Vedanta Limited to explore gas in the state along with government-owned ONGC.

An official of Tripura government told media that a letter from the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to Tripura Chief Secretary Lalit Kumar Gupta said the Union government has signed 55 revenue-sharing contracts with companies which were awarded petroleum exploration blocks.

These blocks were cleared under the Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy and Open Acreage Licensing Policy for exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas.

"One exploration block has been awarded to Vedanta Limited, which is required to apply for petroleum exploration licenses," the official said.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry has also asked the Tripura government to facilitate speedy permission for smooth flow of investment and works in the exploration project.

Reacting to media reports, opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist and Congress strongly opposed the Centre's decision and urged the people to organise agitations to force the government to withdraw the decision.

"The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited has been working in Tripura for five decades and has successfully found and explored huge gas. With this, the ONGC has set up a giant 726 MW power plant in southern Tripura. It also facilitates setting up of many power projects," a CPI-M statement said.

It said the Centre's decision would weaken the PSU and help private organisations to make profits.

"The (ONGC-supplied) gas-based power projects in Tripura provided electricity to all northeastern states and Bangladesh. The ONGC's gas is also used in running thousands of vehicles as Compressed Natural Gas. It also provides Piped Natural Gas to thousands of households and industries for cooking purposes," the statement said.

Congress leader Tapas Dey said the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre and the state never consider the interests of the country. "They care for private investors to help their businesses," said Dey.

"ONGC's exploration activities also help in generating employment for the educated unemployed youths of Tripura," Dey said.

The BJP rejected the Opposition criticism.

"The Centre's decision allowing Vedanta Limited to explore gas in Tripura would help it to develop itself as a model state within the next few years," said BJP spokesman Nabendu Bhattacharjee.

ONGC officials in Tripura refused to comment on the Centre's decision.

The ONGC had so far drilled 225 wells in Tripura, finding huge reserves in over 116 wells.

"The exploration's success ratio is 2:1 (out of two wells, gas found in one well) in the state against the world success ratio of 5:1," an ONGC official said.

The ONGC has, since 1962, established around 41 billion cubic metre (BCM) of recoverable gas reserves in Tripura's eleven gas fields, including the Tichna field in southern Tripura adjoining Bangladesh.

The ONGC had earlier planned to set up a Rs 5,000-crore fertiliser plant in the Tripura in association with the state government and Rajasthan-based private company, Chambal Fertilisers and Chemicals Ltd.

"Earlier, another private company, Jubilant Oil and Gas, was awarded exploration works in eastern Tripura, but the company did not complete its task," an ONGC official said, refusing to be quoted.