Mumbai: Mum is no longer the word for Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL).
Breaking its silence on the gas dispute between companies owned by the estranged Ambani brothers, Mukesh Ambani’s RIL on Friday lashed out at Anil Ambani and his fuel marketing firm Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL) for its “baseless, tendentious and motivated allegations and insinuations” and converting legal issues into a “self serving media campaign”.
An RNRL spokesperson, in response, said that it was “typical of RIL’s conduct” to evade “substantial issues of national and public interest” under the garb of “vague generalities”.
Mukesh Ambani was “profoundly saddened by his brother’s remarks” while Anil Ambani has found it “deeply, deeply distressing...at a very personal and emotional level”.
Hot issue: The control and raiser platform of Reliance Industries’ gas exploration in the Krishna-Godavari basin, off India’s east coast.
Each side has accused the other of disrespecting the judiciary.
The Supreme Court will hear the arguments on 1 September, but much ahead of that the three-year-old corporate dispute has snowballed into a national debate, drawing in several stakeholders, including upstream regulator Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) and the Union ministry of petroleum and natural gas, into the crossfire of accusations.
The RIL outburst, late on Friday afternoon, has come after several days of a mounted attack—and a daily exchange with the mediapersons—by RNRL and its executives on RIL and the petroleum ministry.
Union petroleum minister Murli Deora and DGH made official statements on the government stance on the issue this week and soon after, received sharp reactions from the Anil Ambani aides.
Refuting RNRL’s allegations, RIL said that Anil Ambani’s public statements “are a part of an orchestrated campaign designed to bring into public debate and prejudge the issues that are pending” before the apex court for “private and personal gain”.
RNRL shot back quickly late evening saying, RIL had not answered why it was deliberately “shortchanging” state-owned NTPC Ltd of “up to Rs30,000 crore, by reneging on a binding gas supply contract”—another gas dispute between RIL and NTPC in the Bombay high court.
It also accused the oil refiner of not explaining the hike in its capital spend in the Krishna Godavari (KG) D6 project; hiding it “through tainted reports of alleged independent experts” with “serious and undisclosed conflict of interest”, and deliberately keeping the gas production lower.
Friday’s RIL statement, read out by its president of its international operations Atul Chandra, said: “RIL has chosen to refrain from reacting to the malicious propaganda unleashed by Mr Anil Ambani in the national media... We shall continue to exercise restraint in the face of Mr Anil Ambani’s provocative public statements.”
“Anil Ambani and his associates will also exercise similar restraint,” it hoped.
Its legal counsel Harish Salve had told Mint, after younger Ambani’s acerbic comments in RNRL shareholders’ meet on 28 July, that his comments “are improper”.
On another occasion, Salve said he had strongly advised RIL against getting drawn into a verbal duel.
These developments pertain to a three-year-old gas dispute between RIL and RNRL in which the latter is claiming rights to 28 million cu. m of gas a day for 17 years from the KG basin at $2.34 (around Rs112) per million British thermal unit (mBtu), quoting a 2005 family pact that formed the basis of splitting the Reliance businesses.
This is 44% cheaper than the government-mandated price of $4.2 per mBtu.
RIL is contesting this claim, saying it cannot give the gas to anyone at any price without government approval—a stance seconded by the petroleum ministry.
The dispute has rocked the nation’s legislature, with policymakers demanding in Parliament on Thursday that government nationalize its asset. Deora fended it off, saying “old days of nationalization are gone” and that RIL’s gas price—mandated by the government—of $4.2 per mBtu was lower than other private contractors.
On Monday, Deora had clarified in Parliament that the government has nothing to do with a “private dispute between two industries or industrialists” and will protect government and public interest in the gas distribution policy.
This was a step down from the ministry’s earlier hardline stance in a petition filed in the Supreme Court that the private family pact between the two Ambanis, the epicentre of the gas dispute, should be scrapped.
On Tuesday, the head of DGH, V.K. Sibal, had defended RIL’s capital spend plan as being one of the lowest for comparable projects of its size and gas production, saying these figures were vetted by three independent experts.
RNRL retorted that the increase in spend was disproportionate to hike in output, violating the principle of scale economies, and its experts were connected to institutions in which either RIL or Mukesh Ambani had some representation.