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Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Reliance has high hopes for refinery

MEGA-MOVE The Indian conglomerate hopes the fully-automated Jamnagar facility will launch India into the top ranks of oil refiners and boost its manufacturing sector

AFP , JAMNAGAR, INDIA

This undated handout photograph from Reliance Industries shows an oil refinery at Jamnagar, some 300km west of Ahmedabad, India. Reliance is pinning its hopes on the refinery to catapult it and the country to industrial giant status.

PHOTO: AFP

India's largest conglomerate is pinning its hopes on an Arabian Sea coast oil refinery, poised to become the world's largest, to catapult it and the country to industrial giant status.

"It is not just a refinery. We believe the refinery challenges the paradigm that China is forging ahead of India with its industry," Reliance Industries executive director Hital Meswani told reporters on a tour of the Jamnagar complex.

The sprawling facility in Gujarat state, which opened in December 1999, occupies 30km2 -- one-third the size of Manhattan -- and has helped move India from being a net importer of refined petroleum product to an exporter.

Reliance is set to invest a further US$6 billion in a bid to double output. Although Reliance gives few financial details for Jamnagar, analysts believe the facility will move into profit in 2009.

"It's a refinery for the world, based out of India," Meswani said of the complex, set for another expansion in 2008 -- and a move to the world's top spot from its current third place behind Venezuela and South Korea.

"We want to take India to the world and to transform Jamnagar as the refining hub for the world," he said. "India is often compared to China -- India for its services sector and China for its industrial sector. [But] we want to show what India can do on the manufacturing and industry sides."

In China, the industrial sector accounts for 46 percent of GDP, compared to 27 percent in India.

Reliance is a corporate behemoth that has straddled India's economy for decades with activities in petrochemicals, oil and gas, refining, power, insurance and telecommunications.

Situated in the Gulf of Kutch on the Arabian Sea, the refinery took just three years to build. The firm says its 5,000km of pipes, 1.7 million tonnes of concrete, 14,000km of cable and equivalent in steel of 16 Eiffel towers represent a record.

Work is entirely automated and overseen by engineers working out of underground control rooms, which are adorned with the portraits of the late Reliance founder Dhirubhai Ambani. None of the employees belong to a trade union.

It also has its own power station, a super tanker port, fire station, medical teams and security service, 170km of roads and a residential area of 2,500 homes -- making it virtually a self-sufficient "state within a state." A green belt is also hoped to lead to the production of 3,000 tonnes of mangoes a year.

"The volume, the energy consumption, the capital costs [and] the integration make the refinery unique in the world," the facility's sector chief D.M. Katre said.

The facility is producing 33 million tonnes of refined products -- gasoline, diesel, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas -- plus petrochemicals each year.

Since opening, the complex has served 5,000 ships and "only Rotterdam is handling more refined products," said marine captain Sunil Pradham.

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