New Delhi: Two reports that may hold serious political and corporate implications for India were handed over on Wednesday to the authorities.
The one-man justice S.N. Dhingra Commission investigating Gurgaon land deals that allegedly favoured Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra submitted its report to the Haryana government.
And the Justice A.P. Shah panel that investigated a dispute between Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd (ONGC) and Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) over the flow of gas between their adjacent fields in the Krishna-Godavari basin delivered its report to oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
Contents of neither report were made public.
The report on Vadra’s Gurgaon land deals could cause political discomfiture to the Congress party, which was in power both at the Centre and in Haryana when the transactions took place. The Shah commission’s report could raise uncomfortable questions on corporate governance.
The terms of reference of the Shah commission required him to investigate all ‘acts of omission and commission’ by stakeholders—the Congress-led UPA government, the then Director General of Hydrocarbons and companies.
The dispute, which surfaced in May 2014, dates back to the years between 2009 and 2013.
Shah was mandated to “quantify unfair enrichment if any" by RIL and to recommend ways to compensate ONGC and the government.
The Dhingra Commission’s report would put the spotlight once again on the decade-long tenure of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). At the same time, it could also leave the ruling National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), vulnerable to charges of pursuing political vendetta against its principal rival.
In the land deal case, after submitting the report, Dhingra held a press conference but declined to divulge details.
“The content of the reports will be made available to you when the government places it on the table and decides to take action. I cannot speak to you about the contents of the report right now till the government decides to make public its contents," he told reporters in Gurgaon on Wednesday evening.
In a throwaway line, he said: “If there was no irregularity, I would have submitted a one-line report, which I have not."
In reply to a question on whether any “private citizen" was named in the report, Dhingra said: “The manner in which the irregularities were committed and the persons who were involved. I have named each and every person who is responsible—whether private or government. The role has also been mentioned. Beyond that, I may not be able to tell you."
The land deal, especially the ones which put Vadra under scanner, was a key election issue, which the BJP raised not just in the 2014 general election, but also in the subsequent assembly elections.
The Congress response was predictable.
“Media reports show that Justice Dhingra has submitted report today. Once the report is made public, we will give a detailed response. Even before submission of report, portions were leaked to the press and aired in many television channels. This shows the mal-intent and sinister conspiracy of government of Haryana, of BJP and even the Commission itself. This even proves that the sole intent is to defame, conspire and malign rather than examine the facts fairly," Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told reporters on Wednesday.
“Commission on inquiry is a legal process. It is not proper to comment without knowing its contents. I will say only one thing: that the BJP government treats the violation of law as a violation and it is our job to uphold the law. Nobody is allowed (to do so) and we don’t do anything out of political malice. It is a fair government. It is Congress’ monopoly to work out of political malice. It is not BJP’s work. We work on merit," Union human resources development minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters while responding to Congress’ allegations of political vendetta.
On the RIL-ONGC face-off, Justice Shah told reporters on Wednesday that the report was comprehensive, covering all aspects of the dispute.
“Justice Shah submitted a comprehensive report on the gas dispute. It has some observations on the technical report of DeGolyer & MacNaughton (a US-based consulting firm). The government has one month to decide. We have to report (to the Delhi high court) by September 30. We will take appropriate action," said Pradhan.
The minister added that the Shah panel had confirmed the connectivity of the fields. DeGolyer & MacNaughton, jointly hired by ONGC and RIL as per the court’s suggestion, had given a technical report to the government on 30 November confirming the gas flow.
Pradhan said in an interview to Mint on 15 March that the government wanted an independent view on the issue as it was the first respondent in the case. ONGC alleged that neither the then government nor the then DGH protected its interests, Pradhan said.
On Wednesday, BP Plc, a 30% partner in Reliance’s 21 gas blocks, including in the KG D6, said it was looking forward to an amicable resolution of the issue.
“We understand from media reports that the Justice AP Shah Committee has submitted its recommendations to the ministry of petroleum and natural gas. BP is yet to receive the same. Our intent was and continues to be one of resolving the issue in line with well-established global practices," BP said in a statement.
Emails sent to Reliance and ONGC remained unanswered. The two companies are expected to respond once the report is made public.
“Commissions like these two serve as what we call a ‘hygiene factor’ in an oblivious war on corruption. These commissions are routine, several have happened before and several will happen in the future. In this case, it does point out to the resolve of the Union government to institutionalize probity in public affairs," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.