New Delhi: The Indian government is confident of awarding companies final rights for exploration and production of hydrocarbons in 36 blocks and for coal bed methane in eight blocks by the end of January, said two senior officials in the Union ministry of petroleum and natural gas.

Final rights: An ONGC offshore platform. State-owned ONGC was one of the most successful bidders for oil and coal bed methane blocks in the auctions that were held in October. It won 17 blocks. Bloomberg

The January award will follow the provisional results of the two October auctions, where state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd (ONGC) and Deep Ch IV Pvt. Ltd, as part of separate consortiums, were the most successful bidders for oil and CBM blocks, respectively. ONGC won 17 blocks and Deep Ch IV Pvt. Ltd won seven blocks.

The auction of CBM blocks has been surrounded by controversy.

News agency PTI had reported on 18 December that a panel of secretaries had rejected the bids put in by the consortium?led?by?Deep?Industries.

Philip Chacko, director, special projects, Lanco Infratech Ltd said, “If this is true, then we plan to take a strong response to this to safeguard the interest of the consortium including any legal recourse if required."

Lanco Infratech is the consortium partner with Deep Ch IV in the two blocks in Talcher and Ib valley in Orissa.

However, a senior petroleum ministry official who did not want to be identified denied any decision being taken by the empowered committee of secretaries (ECS).

“A decision to this effect has not been taken. The ECS has not recommended it to the cabinet committee on economic affairs (CCEA). Based on the recommendations the CCEA will take a decision. We will be awarding all the Nelp-8 and CBM-IV blocks by January next year," said the official.

Similarly, S. Sundareshan, additional secretary in the ministry, said that the blocks will be awarded in a month’s time. He declined to comment on the controversy.

While the government had termed the limited number of bids as reasonable, the oil industry executives had claimed it to be low, attributing the lack of interest to uncertainty arising from the government’s policies on pricing and taxation.

“Bids which come under both Nelp-8 and CBM-IV have to be translated to production sharing contracts (PSC) for these projects to begin. Investors have to take a decision of deploying capital. If these blocks are not awarded early next year, there will be lack of capital being made available for these blocks," said Gokul Chaudhri, partner at audit and consulting firm BMR Advisors.

The latest round of auctions, the eighth, under Nelp took place against the backdrop of the global economic slowdown and a bitter legal battle between estranged brothers Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani—whose companies Reliance Industries Ltd, which operates the prolific D6 block in the Krishna-Godavari basin, and Reliance Natural Resources Ltd, respectively—over the freedom to price and distribute oil and gas.

Thus far under Nelp, 73 oil and gas discoveries have been made in 21 exploration blocks with in-place hydrocarbon reserves of at least 600 million tonnes of crude oil equivalent. The total committed investment in the Nelp rounds for exploration so far has been around $10 billion (Rs46,800 crore), of which $5.3 billion has already been spent.