Date: 8/29/2005

Comment Mum’s the word for Mani Shankar Aiyar /// Rahul asks Petroleum Minister to revive Satish Sharma’s plan of petroleum school in Rae Bareli, Minister says sorry, doesn’t make sense; Sonia steps in to change his mind /// AMITAV RANJAN /// Posted online: Sunday, August 28, 2005 at 0207 hours IST /// NEW DELHI, AUGUST 27: When Congress MP Rahul Gandhi asked Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar to set up a petroleum training school in Rae Bareli—his mother Sonia Gandhi’s constituency—the Minister said it couldn’t be done. He quoted official consultants as saying it made little sense, there were no refineries nearby, no infrastructure, no power, no civic amenities. /// Within two months, Aiyar swallowed all his words—after a letter from the mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. /// Sonia’s note (dated April 7) began, ‘‘I have seen your reply to may like to ensure that the project is not taken somewhere else...the necessary clearances would, of course, have to be undertaken by your ministry...I shall be grateful if I am kept informed about the progress being made on this matter.’’ /// Her order couldn’t be clearer. /// So on May 7, Aiyar visited the site in Rae Bareli and got back to her four days later saying yes, it would surely be done. That his ministry was ‘‘taking steps to engage a consultant to re-study the proposal bearing in mind that the earlier report of (the consultants) is now quite outdated.’’ He has even scaled up the project from a mere training school over 11.6 acres—meant to provide technicians to the petroleum sector—to the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology spread over 600 acres! Not just that, he has also revived an earlier plan to have a refinery nearby. /// The funding? The time-tested tradition of milking PSUs. Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd is the project leader and state-run oil companies—already complaining of mounting losses—have been told they have to contribute towards the institute as a proportion of their annual turnover. /// ‘‘I had not turned it down. I gathered all the information and sent it down,’’ Aiyar told The Sunday Express today. Asked about his U-turn, he said: ‘‘I went to the area to see for myself and found that there was enough land to build the institute.’’ /// But official records show that Aiyar moved only after Sonia Gandhi’s letter to him. /// This despite the fact that the project has been a non-starter ever since the first proposal for a National Petroleum Technical School was floated in 1996 by then Petroleum Minister Captain Satish Sharma—he even laid the foundation stone. BPCL had then selected Chhatoh, in Rae Bareli, and bought 4 acres from UP State Industrial Development Corp. /// However, the land was surrendered after Educational Consultants of India, which prepared the feasibility study for BPCL, said Rae Bareli ‘‘was not the most suitable of places compared to other locations.’’ /// Reasons: lack of proximity to refinery, petroleum installations, industrial concentration or potential for industrial development; inadequate power and water, faculty or facilities or even civic and medical amenities. /// The proposal was modified to five such institutes in the five regions of the country but that, too, got shot down in 2000 when the oil industry expressed reservations about being able to provide employment to all those who would be trained at these institutes. /// Asked why was he now expanding the scope of the training school to an institute, Aiyar said: ‘‘Oil ministers of Qatar and Saudi Arabia told me about the respect there is for Indian engineers. In Canada, I was told that there are not enough qualified engineers.’’/// ..........................000000000