New Delhi: The country’s largest power generation utility, NTPC Ltd, is mulling asking the Centre to change its counsel who intervened in a lawsuit between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and his brother Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL) over a gas supply agreement because an admission he made weakens its own position in a case against Reliance, also over the supply of gas.
Citing a spokesperson for the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, The Economic Times on Tuesday reported that the government had instructed the lawyer, T.S. Doabia, to withdraw his statement because it was not part of the brief given to him.
On 21 August, Doabia had told the Bombay high court that NTPC did not have a “concluded” deal with Reliance over the supply of gas from the latter’s Krishna-Godavari basin find to two plants run by the utility in Gujarat.
His statement weakened NTPC’s position, which has an ongoing lawsuit with Reliance.
The case involves the supply of 12 million standard cubic metres of gas per day (mscmd) by Reliance to NTPC for 17 years at $2.34 (Rs103.19 today) a million British thermal unit (mBtu).
Towering issue: NTPC’s plant in Gandhar, Gujarat. The country’s largest power generator has an ongoing case with Reliance over the supply of 12mscmd of gas by the latter to it for 17 years at $2.34 per mBtu.
“We will explore the option of asking the government to remove Doabia from the case. We will do everything to keep our interest intact. We are meeting our legal team, which comprises Ravi Kadam, the advocate general of Maharashtra, and the solicitor general of India tomorrow to discuss options such as these. We are working out our strategy,” said a senior NTPC executive, who did not wish to be named.
NTPC’s lawyer has already written to the petroleum ministry saying that the statement Doabia made in the high court was “factually incorrect and contrary to the stand” taken by the power utility.
NTPC’s stand has the support of the Union power ministry, which has already blamed the petroleum ministry for weakening the utility’s case.
A power ministry official, who did not wish to be named, confirmed that NTPC could “ask for Doabia’s removal”.
Petroleum and natural gas minister Murli Deora and Doabia declined comment. S. Sundareshan, additional secretary in the petroleum ministry and also its official spokesman, was not available for comment.
Doabia is a retired judge and another retired judge, who did not wish to be named, said that it was unlikely he would have made a statement that wasn’t part of his brief. “Irrespective of the fact that a counsel is a retired judge, or not, one cannot go beyond the scope of the instructions of the client and damage his case.”
PTI said Doabia had written to the petroleum ministry on 23 August saying that “the stand which was taken was so taken on instructions of officials of your ministry”. The agency did not mention the source of this information.
The petroleum ministry on Monday had denied charges that it is promoting the interests of Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance, as reported by Mint on 26 August.
The spokespersons for both the Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group and Reliance declined to comment.
NTPC, whose lawsuit against Reliance dates back to December 2005, has always claimed it has a “concluded” contract with Reliance on the gas from the latter’s fields in the Krishna-Godavari basin.
The gas was meant for two NTPC plants in Gujarat, which have now been delayed. The case will come up for hearing on Wednesday.
RNRL’s litigation against Reliance started in November 2006 and the former has claimed it has rights, courtesy an agreement signed when the Reliance group’s assets were split between the estranged Ambani brothers, to 28mscmd of gas from the latter’s Krishna-Godavari basin fields, and an additional 12mscmd if Reliance’s agreement with NTPC breaks down, both at the same price at which Reliance had agreed to supply gas to the state-owned power generator, that is, at $2.34 per mBtu.
Reliance wants to supply the initial 40mscmd of gas from the fields to buyers other than NTPC and RNRL.
Malathi Nayak and PTI contributed to this story.