Oil prices have declined sharply these past eight months. The benchmark Brent crude was at $115 a barrel in June 2014. Now it is at slightly below $50 a barrel. For oil-importing countries such as India, this has come as a huge relief. Macroeconomic indicators have improved markedly and consumers are paying lower prices for diesel and petrol at least. Of course, for populous oil-exporting countries desperately in need of revenues like Iran and Russia, this fall has become somewhat of a nightmare. If the downward slide of oil prices was a little unexpected, the behaviour of Opec (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), especially Saudi Arabia, has been even more pleasantly baffling.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally been the “swing producer”, cutting production when prices fall. But this time around, it has studiously avoided doing so. There are various theories for this behaviour—that Saudi Arabia wants to inflict economic pain on its arch-rival Iran; that, with the connivance of the US, Saudi Arabia wants to inflict pain on Russia; that Saudi Arabia lost market share last time it cut production and could not regain it subsequently and therefore once bitten, twice shy; that Saudi Arabia wants to keep prices low so as to discourage exploration, development and extraction activities in the US itself, which is on its way to becoming the world’s largest hydrocarbon producer in a few years from now.
This column was first published on January 26, 2015 at:
Oil prices have plummeted since June 2014 by almost 60 per cent. This has obviously proved to be a bonanza for oil-importing countries like India just as it has seriously hurt oil-producing nations like Russia and Iran. The fall has been unexpected and what has added to the mystery is the behaviour of Saudi Arabia, the traditional “swing producer” in OPEC which has chosen not to cut production in order to boost prices.
The main reason now being adduced for the oil price decline is the re-emergence of the U.S. as a major hydrocarbon producer because of exploitation of its substantial shale deposits. Lower than anticipated demand, especially from countries like China, and anaemic economic growth in Europe have added to the pressure. As to the response of Saudi Arabia, the best guess is that it does not want to lose market share like it did the last time when it cut output to keep prices up. There are, of course, the usual conspiracy theories — that the Americans have put pressure on major OPEC oil producers not to cut output so that Russia could get hurt from falling prices. Another Byzantine view is that Saudi Arabia is not too unhappy with these prices since its arch-rival Iran is getting hurt and because over the medium-term it would discourage the development of new sources of supply that would threaten the Saudi position.
This column was first published on January 24, 2015 at:
US President Barack Obama will be in the nation’s capital two weeks from today. He will be the first US President to visit India twice while in office. This visit is all about atmospherics, what with him watching India’s military might and cultural diversity on display at the Republic Day parade. The agenda for his substantive meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi will undoubtedly include strategic, trade and investment issues. The climate for his visit has sought to be improved by a spate of ordinances, including those for hiking foreign direct investment (FDI) limits in insurance and for making land acquisition dangerously more corporate-friendly.
This column was first published on January 12, 2015 at:
Ordinance to Land Acquisition Act is not just the return to the era of forcible land acquisition that has made land-related agitations and protests ubiquitous with which we must be concerned.
It has finally happened, although not in the way most people expected. Amendments to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 were certainly on the anvil, going by the statements of the finance minister and some of his senior colleagues. But that it would be done through the ordinance route was a surprise to even those who were championing these amendments and certainly a rude shock to those who believed that the 2013 law was an equitable step forward that should be given a fair chance.
There are five amendments in the ordinance:
This column was first published on January 04, 2015 at:
इस सप्ताह सोमवार को मोदी सरकार ने भूमि अधिग्रहण कानून ‘उचित मुआवजे का अधिकार एवं भूमि अधिग्रहण में पारदर्शिता, पुनर्वास एवं पुनस्र्थापना अधिनियम 2013′ में संशोधन के लिए प्रस्तावित अध्यादेश को अपनी मंजूरी दे दी। इस संशोधन के संदर्भ में जो कुछ सामने आया है उसके तहत कुछ परियोजनाओं की अलग श्रेणी बनाई गई है, जिन्हें कथित तौर पर त्वरित ढंग से पूरा किया जाना है। इस श्रेणी के तहत जो विषय शामिल किए गए हैं उनमें औद्योगिक कॉरिडोर, रक्षा एवं रक्षा उत्पादन तथा ग्रामीण बुनियादी ढांचा हैं। इस संशोधन का तात्कालिक और सबसे अधिक संभावित प्रभाव यह है कि अब इन परियोजनाओं के लिए जमीन बिना किसी पूर्व निर्धारित प्रक्त्रिया के अधिग्रहीत की जा सकती है। इस प्रक्त्रिया को सामाजिक प्रभाव आकलन यानी एसआइए के रूप में भूमि अधिग्रहण कानून में शामिल किया गया था। इसके तहत जमीन अधिग्रहण के लिए प्रभावित परिवारों की सहमति आवश्यक थी। इस संशोधन पर निगाह डालने से पता चलता है कि क्यों यह न केवल समस्याएं पैदा करने वाला है, बल्कि पीछे की ओर ले जाने वाला एक गंभीर कदम भी है। यह संशोधन जमीन के मालिकों और उनकी आजीविका को गहरा नुकसान पहुंचाएगा।
This column was first published on January 2, 2015 at:
In the name of economic reforms and development, the government has taken a significant step backward in India’s march to land justice. The pushing through of the Land Act ordinance violates all democratic norms
On Monday, the Bharatiya Janata Party government cleared the proposed ordinance to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013. This amendment, insofar as has been made known to the public, creates a separate category of projects which shall be “fast tracked.” The items covered under this category include industrial corridors, defence and defence production, rural infrastructure including electrification, housing for the poor including affordable housing, and infrastructure projects including projects taken up under Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode.
This column was co-authored with Muhammad Khan & first published on December 31, 2014 at: