image courtesy:Nigeria Today

Police in Rajasthan have cracked a criminal syndicate accused of smuggling more than 50 million litres of crude oil inside water tankers from India’s largest onshore oilfield, an official said Sunday.

The theft at the Cairn India oilfield went undetected for nearly six years until police in the state arrested 25 people this week for involvement in the sophisticated smuggling network.

Cairn India is an Indian oil and gas exploration and production company, headquartered in Gurgaon, India. It is a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources.Cairn India is one of the largest independent Oil and Gas exploration and production companies in India. Cairn and its JV partners’ account for more than a fifth of India’s domestic crude oil production.

Vedanta Resources PLC initially reached an agreement to acquired 58.5% of Cairn India from Cairn Energy for a total consideration of $8.67 billion in August 2010, with final shareholder approval in December.

Vedanta Resources PLC is a global diversified metals and mining company with its headquarters in London,United Kingdom.It is the largest mining and non-ferrous metals company in India.

Police arrested the criminals on Friday for allegedly stealing about 5 crore litres of crude oil from Cairn India’s oilfield in Barmer over the last several years.

Cairn India produces about 1.75 lakh barrels of oil per day from its Barmer oilfield, which is India’s largest onshore block. The company said it had filed a case and was cooperating with the police.

According to police, the tanker operators were authorised for transporting water, but used to carry oil in two of the five compartments inside the nearly 40,000-litre tanker. The rest would be filled with water.

The accused Sata Ram and Dharma Ram were selling the crude to Gautam Singh Rajpurohit and Bhoor Singh Rajpurohit, both residents of Barmer, at a factory located about 12 km from the city.

The oil was sold to two small factory owners nearby, who stockpiled the crude in underground tanks before selling it on to clients across India.

The stolen oil was used in road construction and diesel production, police said.

Gautam Singh paid Rs 7.50 per litre to the tanker owner and later sold the crude for Rs 25 per litre, police said. The tanker owner kept Rs 4 for himself and distributed the rest Rs 3.50 among the staff posted at production site, the surveyor, helpers and others.

Barmer superintendent of police Gagandeep Singla said the tankers belonged to transport companies Narendra Road lines Ltd (NRL), a Gujarat-based firm, and Shree Mohangarh Construction Company (SMCC), a local entity.

More than 75 people, many drivers and contractors working at the oilfield, are still wanted in connection with the heists, said district police chief Gangandeep Singla.

Barmer collector Shivprasad Nakate told  sources that they have formed a committee to probe the matter from some different angles, including the illegalities. Officials from the state petroleum department have also reached Barmer to probe the matter.

At least 44 tankers were used for transportation of which 39 were used for crude theft, police said, adding that they have seized 33 tankers, 11 of NRL and 22 of SMCC, while five have been kept under vigilance.

Based on the statement of the accused, police said that theft of 15000-20,000 litres of crude oil worth Rs 3 lakh was taking place daily. With more arrests likely, the figures are likely to go up, police said.

More arrests are likely, he said adding that the police were investigating the links of the syndicate outside the state.

We have been able to establish links of the racket in Uttar Pradesh and Kolkata so far, Singla said adding that the role of some top officials of the oil and gas giant was also being examined.

Police recovered around 3,500 litres crude from the factory. On checking with Cairn, the company confirmed that it was crude and it matched with the Cairn satellite field crude oil, Singla said.

Later, police also traced and raided another factory in Barmer Gadan and found eight underground storage tankers and recovered 43,000 litres of crude.

Police said the theft was done in connivance with field-level staff and this nexus had been running since past six years. The security personnel at oil production sites were also questioned.

So far, three FIRs have been registered in which hundred people have been named as accused. Of these, 25 had been detained for questioning on Friday, and police arrested eight of them.

According to the police, the stolen crude was being supplied to many states and investigation is on to trace the complete ring.

In February, police in Uttar Pradesh arrested nearly a dozen people accused of stealing $15.5 million worth of petroleum from a high pressure refinery pipeline in the northern state.

The gang had purchased land adjacent to the refinery and dug a tunnel to tap the pipeline owned by state-run Hindustan Petroleum.

He said the drivers were authorised to carry water , a byproduct in oil exploration ,from exploration sites for dumping but some of the tankers were filled with crude instead.

The lid was blown off the racket following a complaint lodged by Cairn Indias legal officer on July 14 at Nagana police station of Barmer against tanker operators, Sata Ram and Dharma Ram, the police said.