The Indian government has received multiple initial expressions of interest in response to its efforts to privatize oil major Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited has, though prominent players such as Reliance Industries, Saudi Aramco, Total and others have kept away.

Meanwhile, mining and metals major Vedanta Group has announced that it is in the race and hopes to leverage the state-owned firm’s second position in the country’s oil retail business with its existing oil and gas venture.

The government and its transaction adviser Deloitte have so far not revealed the identity of the bidders. Two overseas funds have submitted their initial expression of interest, Times of India reports, quoting sources. As the next step, transaction advisers will evaluate the bidders to ascertain if they meet the qualifying criteria and whether they have the financial muscle to carry out the acquisition. This process may take around three weeks and later a request for proposal will be issued and financial bids sought.

The government is selling its entire 52.98% stake in Bharat Petroleum and the last date of submission of interest was November 16. The remaining stake is owned by foreign portfolio investors, BPCL trust for investing in shares, mutual funds, insurance companies and individual shareholders. It had initially set a May 2 deadline, but postponed it many times due to a lack of buyers.

For the new buyer, Bharat Petroleum will provide ownership to 15.33% of India’s oil refining capacity and 22% of the fuel marketing share. It operates four refineries in Mumbai (Maharashtra), Kochi (Kerala), Bina (Madhya Pradesh), and Numaligarh (Assam). However, as per the government plan, Numaligarh refinery will not be part of this deal and it will be hived off and sold to another state-owned company.

Bharat Petroleum runs 17,138 fuel outlets, 6,151 liquefied petroleum gas distributor agencies and owns 61 out of 256 aviation fuel stations in the country. It also has 26 assets in eight countries such as Russia, Brazil, Mozambique, the UAE, Indonesia, Australia, East Timor and Israel.

Vedanta Group, promoted by billionaire Anil Agarwal, had ventured into the oil and gas business in 2011 with the acquisition of Cairn India for US8.67 billion. Cairn is a major contributor to India’s crude production and has oilfields in Rajasthan state. However, India is a major oil importer and domestic production accounts for only a fifth of the country’s oil intake.

In its Union Budget, the Indian government had set a target of generating 2.1 trillion rupees ($28.33 billion) through the sale of state-owned assets. However, the Covid-19 pandemic impacted its attempt to sell Bharat Petroleum, Air India and Container Corporation of India. It was forced to extend the deadline for expressions of interest for Air India and Bharat Petroleum many times as the uncertainties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic had deterred investors.