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BPCL under the hammer

Reliance-Aramco deal in the offing?

ALL decks are cleared for the disinvestment of BPCL (Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd). We hear the decision is going to be a somersault on the part of the Government of India, and may give final shape to the privatisation structure of the oil industry in India. All reforms in oil sector will have to answer one pertinent question: will it unburden the oil import bill or not? If not, then all amalgamation, reforms, alliance and disinvestment may prove to be just just window dressing. The Modi government had quietly repealed the legislation that had nationalised BPCL, doing away with the need to seek Parliament’s nod before selling it off to private and foreign firms. The Modi government is believed to be considering selling most of its 53.3 per cent stake in BPCL to a strategic partner. It’s estimated that disinvestment of BPCL may fetch around Rs. 60,000 crore which would also help the government meet its Rs 1.05 lakh crore disinvestment target. Sources disclosed that Reliance Industries Ltd, BP plc of UK, Kuwait Petroleum, Petronas of Malaysia, the Shell-Saudi Aramco combine and Essar Oil have expressed their interest in acquiring that stake in BPCL. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, have, meanwhile, allegedly come to an agreement for Aramco to take a 20 per cent stake in the Indian company’s oil refining unit, a business valued at $75 billion including debt, in February 2019. Fearing the consequences of BPCL disinvestment, oil sector leaders met Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari at his office. Gadkari listened to the trade union leaders and chairmen of different oil sector firms, but told them straight that he can’t bail them out as Modi is directly dealing with the issue. The buzz is that Prince Mohammed is strategically moving to improve Aramco’s worth to more than $100 billion. Aramco is planning to list 5 per cent of its shares at a $2 trillion valuation; the IPO could raise as much as $100 billion, four times the largest IPO to date. But before it moves internationally, it appears the Prince is determined to show the world that Aramco is not only a producer of oil but it has direct selling capacity. Of course, India is a hot market for him and Reliance’s Mukesh Bhai is the obvious choice, since he is known to be close to all the ruling dispensation in India. Once the disinvestment of BPCL takes shape, one can possibly imagine the might of Aramco-Reliance network in India (if the bid is won by Reliance) as BPCL operates four refineries at Mumbai, Kochi in Kerala, Bina in Madhya Pradesh and Numaligarh in Assam with a combined capacity to convert 38.3 million tonnes of crude oil into fuel. It has 15,078 petrol pumps and 6,004 LPG distributors. India has a total refining capacity of 249.4 million tonnes and 65,554 petrol pumps and 24,026 LPG distributors. You can do the math!

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