New Delhi, January 7:

In less than 10 years from conceptualisation to start-up, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline of 1,760-km and the Shah Deniz Gas Pipeline of about 1,000-km have been built in the Caucasus.

In India, for more than 20 years we have been talking about gas pipelines from Qatar, Iran, Turkmenistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Not one has been built. Not even one is on the drawing board. Millions of rupees have been spent on endless number of feasibility studies. Even more important, precious time to diversify energy sources for national security has been lost. India should be able to learn from the experience of building these pipelines in the Caucasus. As the West learnt that there was billions of oil to be exploited beneath Caspian Sea, a New Great Game started.

The old Great Game played in Central Asia was to get access and rule India. The New Great Game was to divert the black gold to Wes-tern markets avoiding Russian territory and Iran. There were many complications in the development of an oil pipeline to transport oil from Azerbaijani section of Caspian Sea to the market.

The shortest pipeline would have been to build a pipeline through Iran. Because of the US trade embargo, it was ruled out. The second would have been to expand the existing pipeline through Russian territory and move crude oil over the Black Sea. That would have crowded narrow Bosphoro-us, which was already congested. The third alternative would have been to build a pipeline from Azerbaijan to Armenia to Turkish Medit-erranean port of Ceyhan.

Since, Turkey and Armenia had the historical baggage of genocide of Armenians by Turkey, that was ruled out. That left the only other alternative of constructing a pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan to Tbilisi in Georgia and Ceyhan in Turkey. Since this pipeline had to be built over the mountains at an altitude of 2,930 metres and also environmentally sensitive area of Borjomi where Georgia’s famous mineral water springs exist, many experts used to claim that constructing a pipeline was technically not possible.

There were also several political problems. Russia wanted Caspian oil to move through its territory for geopolitical reasons. The US and EU wanted to ensure that crude does not move through any state controll or friendly state with Russia. There were doubts abo-ut political stability of Georgia.

Since the pipeline in Georgia is buried close to Armenia and in Turkey close to Kurdish area, there is always the potential of sabotage. People in Georgia are very poor and there is every likelihood of oil being stol-en. In fact today, there are many instances of oil pilferage in Georgia from another smaller pipeline from Baku to Supsa on the Black Sea.

There were 11 oil firms investing in the construction of the pipeline. Some of them like BP, Total and Statoil with deep pockets could easily finance the full amount of $3.6 billion. Still they wanted to borrow money from the World Bank, EBRD and other private banks to ensure smo-oth operations and avoid political interference. International NGOs were also involved to ensure social justice to the poor living along the pipeline route both in Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Protests by environmental NGOs were fierce throughout the construction of the pipeline despite all the precautions taken by the lead company BP. As a consultant to Georgian government I was involved in some of these discussions.

This historical oil pipeline was completed in 2005 and started to function this year. Parallel to the route of oil pipeline, another gas pipeline is being constructed and will be ready before the end of this year.