Book Review: So Much Gas

Tanvir Ahmad

A review of, the book, “Gas Wars” by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta with Subir Ghosh and Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri; published by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta; Price not stated.

I understand that this book had a tough time getting published. Apparently Penguins who were initially asked to publish the work and had agreed to do so, developed cold feet when they were allegedly threatened with “consequences”. The main author then looked at various other options all of which came to nought when the prospective publishers saw the sub title, “Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis”. In the event the main author became the publisher with the assistance of a retired editor of a large publishing house.

And that is unfortunate, because the work needed a lot of editing and that did not happen. So the book is replete with repetitions ad nauseam. Perhaps the various parts were written at various points in time and only later collated for publication in a single book. If these parts had been properly edited, the work would have been tighter and more readable. Considering the importance of the subject and what Thakurta has to say about it, it would have attracted much more readership and more people would have read of the nefarious deeds of one the largest companies of India and how they are helped in their underhand deals by some of the politicians and some bureaucrats.

The government of the time had decided that the existing public sector oil companies were not good enough or were overloaded with their existing portfolios and/or would not help the ministers in garnering slush funds for the party in power or for their own private kitties. They therefore decided to take the “help” of their friends in the private sector for exploration for gas off the coast of Andhra Pradesh and subsequently supply gas to the citizens of India. The existing public sector oil/gas companies were not only capable of doing the manifest job, and surely at a fraction the cost in terms of both time and money to the people of India but then the latent but more important job of supply of money to individuals in the bureaucracy and in the political parties would have been made difficult.

But the story is not all dark as there were many bureaucrats who, disgusted with the dark doings of the band of capitalists and their running dogs helped Shri Tapan Sen, the lone leftist MP in getting the sordid details of the self serving of the cronies to get even richer than they already were.

One slightly irritating habit of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (PGT), the lead writer is to signify himself too often as such i.e. as “lead writer of the book” throughout the book. This breaks the flow of the narration apart from giving a sense of  self-aggrandisement on the part of the “lead” writer.

It is a sacred rule in bureaucracy that the terms and conditions of a tender, once awarded cannot and will not be changed on pain of death usually to the lowly bureaucrat who dares to do so or to suggest any changes favourable to the contractor. I know it through my experience as a Public Sector bureaucrat. In this case not only was the price of gas increased to almost twice the stipulated rate well before the stipulated time but also when already there were allegations of the company not providing the amount of gas promised. The allegations said that Mukesh Ambani was waiting for the rise in price to supply more gas. The excuse given by the company was that the difficulties faced by them in procuring the gas were more than had been bargained for. Once again the normal terms of tender would have not bothered about the tribulations of the contractor after the contract was awarded and the company would have faced legal action because it had not delivered gas at the rate agreed to.

The book has several appendices covering many other sweet deals where the Ambanis profited vastly, needless to say at the cost of the people of India.

A book detailing with matters of such national importance should have created storms. Strange to say if there have been any they were only in tea cups. I haven’t come across reviews of this book in any significant numbers in any significant periodicals. Why? Well one reason perhaps is the lack of proper readability mentioned earlier due to scant editing. The other reason could be fear. Possibly the powers that be have understood that banning the publication/sale creates more interest in the targeted work. But a conspiracy of silence, albeit a forced one, after the publication buries the book more efficiently.

Such seems to have been the case.

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