Home >Politics >Policy >Delhi ACB can probe RIL gas pricing row: govt to HC

New Delhi: Going back on what it had earlier told the Delhi high court, the Delhi administration on Thursday informed the high court that the state’s anti-corruption branch (ACB) did have jurisdiction to probe cases such as the one involving the price of gas produced from the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin.

During the 49-day term of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi, ACB filed a first information report (FIR) naming Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani, besides M. Veerappa Moily and Murli Deora, who were Union ministers at the time. RIL and the Union government challenged the FIRs in the Delhi high court.

The Delhi ACB’s power to investigate such cases came into question following a 23 July notification issued by the central government that restricted its jurisdiction to probing officers and employees of the state government. This kept central government officials out of the ACB’s purview.

In an affidavit filed through lawyer Rajiv Nanda, the Delhi government told the high court on Thursday that the home ministry had clarified to it that the July notification was prospective and becomes effective from the date of its publication in the official gazette.

As a result, the case can still be probed by ACB. The affidavit also stated that five other cases involving central government officials had been pending with ACB since before the notification.

FIRs were filed against RIL and the ministers on complaints from former cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramanian, former navy chief R.H. Tahiliani, lawyer Kamini Jaiswal and former civil servant E.A.S. Sarma on the issue of pricing gas produced from RIL’s KG-D6 block.

The complainants alleged “collusion" between the government and RIL to increase the price, defrauding the public exchequer and compromising public interest.

RIL denied the allegations, terming them “irresponsible". Moily, petroleum minister at the time the FIR was filed in February, also rejected the allegation, saying the price was decided on the basis of expert advice. Deora, too, challenged the FIR in the high court.

Senior lawyer Vikas Singh, who represented the Delhi government in the case, said, “Following the notification, the Delhi government had written to the centre asking it to clarify whether the notification was prospective or retrospective. Now, the centre has clarified the notification was not applicable to cases filed before it was notified."

“Even though the notification only excludes central government officials from the purview of ACB’s investigation, since the case was one of conspiracy between government officials and Reliance, it could not have been investigated at all. We will go ahead with the investigation which had been stopped as a precaution after the notification came."

Saying that he was going to challenge the July notification in this very case, advocate and senior AAP leader Prashant Bhushan said: “This is an illegal notification because the power to investigate an offence that is committed in an area is given to the local police of an area (in this case, ACB) by the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973. This power cannot be taken away by the central government."

RIL refused to comment and said it needed 24 hours to reply. The case will come up for further hearing on 28 October.

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