New Delhi: Pradip Baijal, former special secretary in the Union power ministry and head of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), resigned from the post of chairman of the Pipeline Advisory Committee of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB), India’s oil and gas sector regulator.
Resigned: Pradip Baijal. Vipin Kumar / HT
News of his resignation comes at a time when questions on conflict of interest were imputed to a column that Baijal wrote in the ‘Business Standard’ on 10 July.
Baijal, however, denied any conflict of interest and maintained that he had resigned on 16 June, around three weeks before the article was published. The column, written in the context of the ongoing dispute between Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL) over supply of gas being produced by the former from the Krishna-Godavari, or KG, basin, had argued that the controversy should not lead to the stalling of the project.
“I hope that the conspiracy, which did not allow hydel or other major projects in India to come up, is not allowed to get in the way again... It is being done by raising doubts over what RIL’s production sharing contract (PSC) with the government actually allows, by saying that a family agreement between the two Ambani brothers is more important than the PSC,” Baijal wrote.
The Bombay high court had recently given its verdict on natural gas being supplied to RNRL by RIL at a price lower than that specified by the government. It had also quoted key parts of the hitherto secret memorandum of understanding between Mukesh and Anil Ambani, signed in 2005 when the two parted ways, which suggest that the Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (R-Adag) will have a first right of refusal on all future gas discoveries by RIL, though at market prices.
In a letter, published in Business Standard on 13 July, Tony Jesudasan, group president— corporate communications, R-Adag, argued that Baijal had commercial links with RIL and hence his argument represented a conflict of interest.
“The article refers to Mr Baijal as a former special secretary (power) and a formal (former) chairman of Trai. But Mr Baijal currently works in association with Niira Radia and Vaishnavi Communications, which has two key accounts, namely Reliance Industries and the Tata group. After Mr Baijal retired from Trai, Ms Radia and Vaishnavi Communications set up a lobbying arm called Noesis, of which Radia, Baijal and C.M. Vasudev became directors,” Jesudasan said.
The newspaper admitted that it was “not aware” of Baijal’s link with Radia and would have disclosed it otherwise. Radia did not respond to phone calls or an SMS. Vasudev could not be reached immediately.
However, Baijal denied that Noesis was a lobbying firm and said, “It is a strategic consulting company and I do work in 15 countries. Niira is one of the partners and what she does otherwise is none of my business.”
Jesudasan had, using the same line of reasoning, also raised questions on Baijal’s appointment as chairman of the committee appointed by the gas regulator, saying that it represented a conflict of interest. “He will oversee resolution of issues related to the setting up of gas pielines (pipelines), the tariff regime, and issues related to city gas distribution,”Jesudasan said.
“It was an advisory committee on the design of pipelines and I resigned from it on 16th of last month because there was too much work and I felt that at some point of time, some one will raise the same issues that you are raising. I had only attended an introductory meeting,” Baijal said.
A PNGRB member, who did not want to be identified, chose to play down the controversy. “The committee was not of much importance. We were not aware of this link with Noesis Strategic Consulting Services. We needed a senior person to co-ordinate. The issue before the committee was to recommend which pipeline was to transport gas from Reliance Krishna-Godavari basin.”