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Govt exploring options to sell majority stake in BPCL to global oil firm

The government has set a record target of raising Rs 1.05 trillion ($14.8 billion) in the current fiscal year from sale of state firms.

BPCL, petrol, petrol pump
Representative Image

India is considering a plan to sell the nation’s second-largest state refiner and fuel retailer to a global oil company as it explores options to give up its controlling stake in Bharat Petroleum Corp., people with knowledge of the matter said.

The government is keen to lure multinational companies in the domestic fuel retailing to boost competition and shake up a sector that’s long been dominated by state-run firms, the people said, asking not to be identified as the plan is not public. The Business Standard newspaper reported on September 2 government’s plan to sell a majority stake in the company. It holds 53.3 per cent in BPCL.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has set a record target of raising 1.05 trillion rupees ($14.8 billion) in the current financial year from sale of state firms. The government’s fiscal deficit target of 3.3 per cent of GDP is at risk due to sluggish revenue collections on the back of growth slowdown, limiting the government’s ability to spend on infrastructure and welfare programs.

Offloading its holding in Bharat Petroleum can help meet more than 40 per cent of the aim based on the closing price on September 12. Finance ministry spokesman Rajesh Malhotra could not be immediately reached for a comment.

Early Stage

The talks are at an early stage and it’s unclear how long it will take to finalise a decision and what option the government will choose, the people added. A move to privatise BPCL will need parliament’s approval.

Saudi Aramco is targeting refining deals in India, while Russia’s Rosneft PJSC has already invested in oil refining and fuel marketing. Others such as Total SA, Shell and BP Plc are also expanding into fuel retailing in India. The International Energy Agency expects energy demand to more than double by 2040.

An earlier attempt to sell state refiners Hindustan Petroleum Corp. to a single investor and Bharat Petroleum to the public was stalled by a Supreme Court order in 2003 following protests by labor and political groups.

Bharat Petroleum was previously Burmah Shell, which in 1970s was nationalised by an act of Parliament. Burmah Shell, set up in the 1920s, was an alliance between Royal Dutch Shell and Burmah Oil Co. and Asiatic Petroleum (India).