The government provides financial support for domestic fertiliser sales at rates below the market to insulate farmers from high prices and to contain inflation.
The government expects to cut its fertiliser subsidy bill by up to Rs 24,000 crore if the fifth of companies’ supplies is bought through bilateral contracts or gas exchange, said one of the government officials, who declined to be identified.
India, which imports up to 40% of the 50 million tonnes of fertiliser it needs annually, has been hit hard by rising prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted supplies. Russia is a major fertiliser producer.
Early last month, fertilisers minister Mansukh Mandaviya said that due to higher global prices, India’s fertiliser subsidy bill for the fiscal year would rise to a record Rs 2.25 lakh crore from about Rs 1.5 lakh crore the previous year.
“To help rein in the fertiliser subsidy bill for next fiscal, the fertiliser ministry is trying to rework the mechanism of how gas is procured by fertiliser plants,” said a second government official, who also declined to be identified.
Both of the officials are directly involved in the issue but are not authorised to speak to media.
The government has amended 2015 gas procurement guidelines under which fertiliser plants had to procure 80% of their gas through long-term contracts, and the balance through three-month tenders, they said.
“Three-month prices are high as there is lot of padding and hedging by suppliers, more so since there is so much volatility in global gas prices,” the first official said.
Under the revision, fertiliser companies will have to buy 40% of their supplies under a “take or pay” rule, in contrast to no minimum purchase required under the guidelines previously, the official added.
The fertiliser ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The “take and pay” rule led to shares of state-run fertiliser companies, National Fertilizers Ltd, Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Ltd, falling by 4% to 5% after the news, under performing the broader index.
Fertiliser plants can source gas through the Indian Gas Exchange and inter-company contracts. The new rule also allows fertiliser companies to withdraw tenders if they feel the bidding has led to higher-than-expected prices.
Fertiliser plants bought gas at $38 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) for supply in the October-December quarter through a tender. The maximum price quoted in the tender was $55 while gas was available at the Indian Gas Exchange and bilateral markets for $15 to $20 per mmBtu.
Asia’s third-largest economy needs crop nutrients to feed its huge agriculture sector, which employs about 60% of the workforce and accounts for 15% of nearly $3 trillion economy.