Days before Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) could have got a higher price for gas produced from the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has moved the Election Commission, asking it to withhold the Centre’s decision on a price rise. RIL, too, did its bit by taking on AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal by uploading a video on YouTube, rubbishing the allegations levelled against the company promoter Mukesh Ambani.
The video, recorded in the format of a news broadcast, denies allegations that it has benefited through Ambani’s family relations with a Gujarat minister, Saurabh Patel Dalal. The statement, read out by Umesh Upadhyay, a former journalist who is now part of RIL’s corporate communication team, had not named Kejriwal. Dalal is the husband of the first cousin of Mukesh and the son-in-law of Ramnikbhai Ambani, the elder brother of late Dhirubhai Ambani.
Earlier, the petroleum ministry had approached the poll panel to give the go-ahead for doubling the gas price from the current $4.2 per mBtu (million British thermal units) from April 1. Though the price hike decision was cleared by the Cabinet in 2013 — since elections were announced on March 5 this year — ministry officials wanted to get the consent of the election panel also. Though a price review was due on April 1, the government hands might get tied, if EC approval does not come through.
In a letter to Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath, Kejriwal stated, “This policy decision, which the government is set to implement from April 1, is a clear violation of the model code of conduct, since it is directly aimed at providing huge financial benefits to RIL and falls within the ambit of corrupt practices during the elections.”
He added the government decision was likely to cost the country Rs 54,500 crore every year and it must be probed by the EC “how much money has been provided by the RIL to the Congress and other parties for spending in the elections”.
The party also highlighted that it was Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia who raised the issue and wanted the government to approach the EC before going ahead with price hike.
As Delhi chief minister, Kejriwal had filed a FIR with the state anti-corruption bureau to investigate the alleged collusion between some ministers of the central government and RIL in raising the gas prices on February 11. Last year, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had decided to allow RIL to draw a higher gas price from April 1, asking the company to furnish a bank guarantee to cover its liability in case the gas hoarding charges against it are proved. The bank guarantee would be equivalent to the incremental revenue RIL might get from the new gas price.
Giving legal reasoning to counter Kejriwal's speech delivered at a recent media event, the statement said Reliance was producing gas from Andhra Pradesh, which is 1,500 km away from Gujarat. "As per the Constitution, petroleum and natural gas is a central subject...even if the minister wants he cannot pass on benefits to RIL, since he does not have a say in the subject." The company said it was producing power from the gas for captive purpose and hence the case of undue benefits does not arise.