By Sumita Layek
(Reuters) - India's oil imports in March rose from the previous month, buoyed by an upturn in economic activity that could take a knock again because of renewed lockdowns in the world's third-largest crude importer.
Crude imports rose 7.3% from February to 18.26 million tonnes, data on the website of the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC) showed, although imports were still down about 6.5% year on year.
Louise Dickson, oil markets analyst at Rystad Energy, said the small slide in imports year on year in March could be attributed to a surge in crude prices.
"Indian oil demand recovery needs longer than 12 months to reach pre-pandemic levels," she said.
Looking ahead, preliminary data showed Indian state refiners' local fuel sales in April declined due to state-level restrictions aimed at stemming a rampant second wave of coronavirus infections.
India's annual crude imports fell nearly 13% in the fiscal year 2020/21 to 198.11 million tonnes, its lowest in six years as refiners cut crude processing as COVID-19 destroyed fuel demand, data compiled by Reuters showed.
K. Ravichandran, deputy chief rating officer at ICRA, said imports in 2021/22 could match the previous year's level or, in a worst case scenario, could see a marginal slide.
Imports of oil products in March rose about 8.8% to 4.10 million tonnes year on year, while exports were up 2.5% to 6.08 million tonnes.
Diesel exports in March jumped 45.5% from the preceding month and up 3.7% year on year.
Asia's third-biggest economy imports and exports refined fuels as it holds surplus refining capacity.
(Reporting by Sumita Layek and Brijesh Patel in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Bharat Govind Gautam; Editing by Louise Heavens and Edmund Blair)