The Indian Economy Blog

September 20, 2008

The Cesspool Of Crude Oil Cess

Filed under: Business,Energy,Fiscal policy,Politics,Regulatory reforms — Pragmatic @ 6:35 pm

Did you know that the Indian government imposes a cess on indigenously produced crude oil? The Oil Industry Development Act, 1974 based on which the cess is being charged, states that “the cess collected under this provision would be made available to the development of petroleum sector”. The cess was introduced to provide financial assistance to state-owned oil companies, and is not applicable to private oil producers.

Since then, the government has collected Rs.74972.36 crore as cess, but only Rs.902 crore has been allocated to the Oil Industry Development Board (OIDB) that is supposed to disburse the money to the industry.  In fact, the last allotment of Rs. 95 crore to the OIDB was done in 1991-92. The balance money has gone to the Consolidated Fund of India and added to other revenue accruals.

The cess was doubled in 2002 from Rs. 900 per tonne to Rs.1800 per tonne, and further increased to Rs. 2500 per tonne in 2006, on the ground of providing subsidies to LPG and kerosene. As per the Oil Industry (Development) Act, the amount collected by levying cess on indigenous crude is to be utilised for the development of petroleum sector; the cess was never intended to cover subsidies – either directly or through oil bonds.

Cess is only applicable to pre-NELP [New Exploration Licensing Policy] blocks or acreage given to national oil companies (NOCs- ONGC and OIL) on a nomination basis in which the licensee may be one of the NOCs. The blocks that pay cess on oil are: nomination blocks held 100 per cent by NOCs (for example, Mumbai High), joint venture blocks that were awarded as field development contracts (such as Mukta, Panna, Ravva), and exploration blocks that went on to production (such as PY-3, CB-OS/2).

Now that the petroleum sector has been deregulated and opened for private sector, there is no justification of continuing this cess at all. The private companies still pay about half the cess not paid to the government as increased profit oil [amount of production paid to the government under the production sharing contract] and corporate taxes. Recent newsreports indicate that-

The government is obtaining legal opinion for imposing a special oil tax on the domestic crude oil production under the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP). The proposed tax is supposed to kick-in after price of domestically-produced crude oil crosses the $75/barrel mark. While public sector oil producers like ONGC and Oil India would have to fork out to the government 100% of additional realisation beyond the cut-off price, private companies like Reliance Industries (RIL), Essar Oil and Cairn India would be required to pay 40% of their windfall gains.[ET]

Cess, customs duty, excise duty, sales tax, education cess, pollution cess and now a special oil tax. Considering the amount of revenue collected by the government[central and state], the net subsidy provided  to the public on petroleum products is only a political statement, with insignificant net financial entailment.

Coupled with the charade of Oil Bonds, the cess imposed on the indigenous crude oil produced by NOCs is an implicit arrangement of meeting the subsidy burden and artificially containing government’s budgetary deficits. All these measures are but an indicator of the byzantine and befuddled nature of the government budgetary process. It is time someone took up cudgels to streamline and simplify the convoluted government fiscal setup, both of revenue collection and of expenditure.

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