The Centre has prepared the Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 document for the Northeast outlining steps to leverage the hydrocarbon sector alone. Such vision documents confined to specific areas are certainly very useful since they eble our planners to stay focused on just one or two areas of development hinged on one or two important resources of the region. In that sense, such vision documents are easier to implement than the ambitious and comprehensive ones that seek to bite off much more than can be chewed. At the same time, such resource-specific vision documents can easily create confusion about (a) whether the vision document is related to overall general development or not and (b) whether the benefits of leveraging the region’s hydrocarbon potential will accrue more to the region or to the country as a whole.
According to reports, the vision document has been prepared for development of the Northeast-oriented efforts towards making hydrocarbons a tool to eble social and economic development to take place. This is what Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of State for Petroleum and tural Gas said in the Lok Sabha in reply to a question. We are given to understand that the vision document has been a focused and consultative exercise to develop a common and shared aspiration for benefiting the people of the Northeast. This is perhaps the first time that the Centre has envisaged development of the Northeast that is closely linked to two of its major tural resources, mely petroleum and tural gas. For decades, we have seen tural resources of the region being used as a source of revenue for the Centre without much thought to the benefits that should have accrued to the Northeast. Worse, we have seen tural gas being flared recklessly in Assam for over a decade. Among the hydrocarbon-related objectives related mentioned in the vision document are a doubling of oil and gas production by the year 2030, making clean fuels accessible, generating employment opportunities, fast-tracking projects and promoting cooperation with neighbouring countries. The first three objectives rate a higher priority than the others considering that the region has benefited far less from its tural resources than one would have expected. According to the provisions of the Indian Constitution, tural resources that are below the ground are the property of the Centre. Even so, in a federal setup like ours, there should be a clear provision for a State or region to be able to benefit from all its tural resources including what exists below the ground. Over the years, this does not seem to have happened here. As such, most people are likely to view the latest vision document on the hydrocarbon sector as the Centre’s attempt to undo a long-standing injustice to the region that has had little benefits accruing from its resources of petroleum and tural gas. That the oil and tural gas production of the region can be doubled has been the general assessment of oil experts for quite some time. However, for this to happen, there will have to be far greater investments on exploration, and the methods of prospecting for oil and tural gas will have to change. Apparently methods of extracting crude oil and tural gas from far greater depths do exist, and these will have to be put to use despite higher costs if the region wishes to make the most of our precious tural resources. The public sector undertakings of the region related to the hydrocarbon sector have produced a total of 210,000 metric tonnes of crude oil and 62 million cubic metres of gas during the last three years. That represents the extent of contribution of the Northeast, including Assam, in reducing the import dependency of crude oil and tural gas. One of the greatest benefits likely to accrue to the development of the Northeast through the implementation of the vision document would be in generating employment opportunities in a region that has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country.