New Delhi: The Ambani brothers may have resolved their four-year-old dispute over gas, in court and out of it, but the fight continues to wreak collateral damage.
Joining the list of those affected are several employees of India’s Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) who want to go back to their parent organizations as the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) pursue an inquiry into allegations against former director general of hydrocarbons V.K. Sibal.
The demand for “repatriation” started after the investigation initiated by CVC, which looks at complaints against government departments and state-owned companies, had asked India’s federal investigation agency CBI to look into allegations of a nexus between Sibal and Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL). Allegations to this effect had emerged amid the bitter dispute between Mukesh and Anil Ambani over gas, a matter on which the Supreme Court has recently ruled.
“We have 97 people on deputation with around eight consultants. This is an inquiry and everybody should co-operate. We can only request them to stay. The choice is theirs,” said S.K. Srivastava, director general of hydrocarbons, responding to a query on people wishing to return to the state-owned firms where they originally worked.
Srivastava, director of operations at Oil India Ltd (OIL), took charge as director general after the petroleum ministry did not renew Sibal’s term last year.
DGH is a government body that manages the petroleum resources of the country and falls under the purview of the ministry of petroleum and natural gas.
It is manned by staff drawn on deputation or tenure basis, mainly from state-owned firms in the energy business such as Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) and OIL.
Apart from helping the government?to allocate rights to explore blocks through auctions under India’s new exploration and licensing policy (Nelp), DGH is also preparing the country to move away from periodic auctions for exploration rights to round-the-year bids known as open acreage licensing policy.
The draining away of talent combined with poor morale at any regulator can affect the entire industry, said Gokul Chaudhri, partner at audit and consulting firm BMR Advisors.
Anil Ambani’s Reliance Natural Resources Ltd had alleged that the director general improperly approved a fourfold increase, to $8.8 billion (41,096 crore), in capital expenditure by RIL on its D6 exploration block in the Krishna-Godavari basin, one of the country’s biggest gas discoveries.
Exploration companies get to recover their cost from the hydrocarbons they find and any increase in capital expenditure means more of so-called cost oil or gas that they get to keep or sell.
Both Sibal and RIL have denied the allegations.
The issue of staff wanting to leave came to light on 31 March during a DGH performance review.
Since then, the Supreme Court has ruled in the Ambani gas dispute, but the investigations by CVC and CBI continue.
The issue assumed such proportions that petroleum secretary S. Sundareshan held an open-house session with DGH staff to address their concerns, said a petroleum ministry official who did not want to be identified.
“We are still in the preliminary stage of investigations. We assume that it will take another two months to gather the required data and information,” a senior CBI officer associated with the probe said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The officer also said DGH was not cooperating adequately. “There are unnecessary delays on their part in sharing information with us,” he said.
Srivastava denied this and said DGH has received no such complaint from CBI. “We have extended all possible co-operation. So much so that in one day our seven people were there. Every clarification was given,” he said.