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by Michael last modified 2006-11-08 19:11

India, the largest democracy in the world, is also the world’s sixth largest energy consumer. [1] Moreover, Indian consumption of natural gas has risen faster than consumption of any other fuel in recent years, from 0.6 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) annually in 1995, to nearly 0.9 Tcf in 2002, and possibly up to 1.2 Tcf in 2010 and 1.6 Tcf in 2015. [2] Its natural gas deposits are considerable--estimates ranged around 1779.6144 billion cubic feet as of January 1, 2002. [3] Yet India's domestic natural gas supply is not likely to keep pace with demand, particularly because of the fertilising and power sectors, the greatest gas consuming areas in the country. [2, 4, 5] Subsequently, out of economic interest, India is seeking to import natural gas, the predicted fastest growing component of global energy consumption. [6]

Largely as a consequence of her energy needs, India has also approached her archrival Pakistan with plans for regional natural oil and/or gas pipelines, for example from Iran’s South Pars field or from Central Asia. There are also discussions on importing gas from Bangladesh, another neighbour with whom India shares an uneasy border. For the time being, however, gas export deals from Bangladesh are on hold as long as Dhaka has un resolved questions about the country’s domestic needs. [2]

Gas imports from Burma, however, appear to be the most profitable option. Despite an uneasy history between the two countries, current political rows and conflict with Burma appear minimal compared to the animosities towards Pakistan and Bangladesh. Moreover, considering China's interest in and engagement with Burma, India has considerably changed its foreign policy approach to Burma over the past decades by also engaging with the regime.

India's Burma policy has over the past years already played into the hand of the regime in Rangoon. India is one of Burma's largest trading partners and an important export market. Furthermore, rebel activities along their shared border have led to increased cooperation of regional governments in responding to ethnic insurgencies. India seeks cooperation from Burma to keep out Indian Nagaland insurgents, [3] while Rangoon demands India to crush down on Burmese dissidents and opposition groups based in India.

The Shwe Gas Project is the largest project between Indian corporations and the Burmese regime as of yet. GAIL and ONGC Videsh Ltd. own a 30% share in the A1 fields and intend to acquire a share in the A 2 fields--currently owned 100% by South Korean Daewoo Int'l Corp.

The prospect for Indian-Burmese relations appears good--at least at the government and the corporate level. By engaging with and investing in Burma, India however only runs the risk of increasing instability along her Eastern border and in the wider region by entrenching one of the world's most brutal military regimes, thus prolonging the suffering and hardship of the Burmese people.


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