India, which is currently the fourth largest consumer of energy in the world, is aiming for energy independence by 2030. At present, the country is dependent on imports for meeting an overwhelming share of its energy needs — 80% of its oil, 18% of its gas and more than 20% of its coal. With the Indian economy, now the fourth largest in the world, poised to sustain a robust growth rate, energy consumption in the country is expected to go up by a substantial extent in the years ahead. As such, the quest for energy security assumes more than usual significance for sustaining the Indian growth story.
Like other energy deficient countries, India too is looking at ways and means to stockpile energy sources in an economically viable and environmentally sustainable manner. Clearly, India has realised that natural gas transported through pipelines is the best option to meet a part of the country’s burgeoning energy requirements. It is in the fitness of things that the Narendra Modi-led government has given a new edge to gas pipeline diplomacy as one of the cornerstones of meeting India’s growing energy needs.
In this context, energy hungry India is looking at the speedier implementation of the ambitious TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project. For India, the flagging off of the initial groundwork for this 1,820-km long pipeline, highlighted by survey and engineering exercise, cannot but be a welcome development. Everything going as planned, the actual work on laying the pipeline would commence by the end of the year. Interestingly, both Nepal and Bangladesh have evinced interest in joining this pipeline project.
While for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the TAPI project will be an economically viable conduit of eco-friendly energy source, for the Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan, the pipeline project implies the opening up of a new, lucrative market for it untapped gas reserve. Further, for Turkmenistan, TAPI also marks a clear break from Russian domination over the pipelines passing through the Caspian region. This strategic pipeline project to be spearheaded by the Turkmen GAZ, supported by a multinational consortium, will be equipped to carry 90-million standard cubic metres of gas per day from the Southern Yoloten-Osman gas fields.
TAPI will pass through Herat, Helmand and Kandahar regions of Afghanistan to Quetta and Multan in Pakistan before terminating in Fazilka in Indian Punjab. Here, a network of pipelines managed by the state owned Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) will carry 38 MMSCMD (million metric standard cubic metre per day) gas to various consumption points in the country.
On the flipside, India has reasons to worry about the safety of this pipeline project. In Afghanistan, it will have to negotiate not only rugged mountain ranges but also landmines. In addition, the Taliban militia could very well pose a threat to the pipeline. Further ahead, the pipeline will pass through the trouble torn Balochistan province of Pakistan where a Baloch separatist movement is on ascendance.
Gas pipelines have the potential to emerge as the future of Indian energy security. With the Indian economy, now the fourth largest in the world, poised to sustain a robust growth rate, energy consumption in the country is expected to go up by a substantial extent. For India, the flagging off of the initial groundwork for this 1,820-km long pipeline is a welcome development.
In fact, there have been cases of Baloch outfits fighting for an independent Baloch homeland having attacked the pipelines carrying gas from the Sui gas fields to various parts of the country.
Russia has expressed itself against the TAPI project. The Russian interest is in sustaining the monopoly of the pipeline routes snaking through the Caspian region. For Turkmenistan, sandwiched between the two energy giants, Russia and Iran, TAPI will be a vital asset with a huge revenue earning potential.
After Russia clinched a US$400-billion pipeline deal with China for the supply of natural gas, Moscow had expressed its keenness to work on a gas pipeline to India through the Himalayas.
During the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit held in Brazil in July 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the possibility of building another pipeline running parallel to TAPI pipeline. “If implemented, such a pipeline now seemingly futuristic, would be the biggest ever energy project in the history which would enhance India’s energy security,” said Russian ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin.
Meanwhile, there are hopes that India would rejoin the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project in the context of the Iranian nuclear standoff coming to an end following a landmark agreement with six world powers. In the ultimate analysis, gas pipelines have all the potential to emerge as the future of Indian energy security.
Radhakrishna Rao is a freelance writer specialising in defence, security, energy and environmental issues.