The Centre has taken away powers of the Delhi government’s anti-corruption branch (ACB) to investigate charges filed against Reliance Industries, its chairman Mukesh Ambani, former Congress ministers Murli Deora and M Veerappa Moily, and others in a case relating to gas from the company’s find in the Krishna-Godavari basin off the Andhra Pradesh coast.
ACB’s powers were curtailed on July 23, within a month of it informing the Delhi High Court that it could investigate the case of corruption against the company and the individuals named in a police complaint.
The complaint was filed by former Union power secretary E A S Sarma, Supreme Court lawyer Kamini Jaiswal, former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian and former chief of naval staff Admiral R H Tahiliani when Arvind Kejriwal was the chief minister of Delhi.
Reliance Industries moved the Delhi High Court, asking for the first information report to be quashed and questioning ACB’s authority to probe. It claimed the charges of corruption in gas pricing pertained to a policy decision of the Union government and the branch, an arm of the Delhi government, could not look into it.
The bureau cited orders of Lieutenant Governors of Delhi in 1977 and 1993 that empowered it to investigate cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act within the National Capital Territory.
The affidavit noted that since the Lieutenant Governor was a representative of the Union government, the Centre itself had devolved the powers upon ACB.
On July 23, the Union home ministry issued an order limiting the powers of the branch to only employees of the Delhi government. The notification, which has been reviewed by Business Standard, says the 1993 order of the Lieutenant Governor shall “apply to the officers and employees of the Government of National Capital”.
The explanation to the notification reads, “Central government hereby declares that the notification number F1/21/92-Home (P) Estt 1750, dated the 8th November, 1993, issued by the Lieutenant Governor of the National Capital Territory of Delhi shall be applicable to the officers and employees of that government only.”
The Centre’s notification does not say it applies retrospectively. It has been challenged in the Delhi High Court by Prashant Bhushan appearing for two of the individuals who filed the FIR. He said the notification would require an amendment to the law to prevent the state police from investigating a matter that fell within its territory.
The Delhi government conveyed the dilution of ACB’s powers to the Delhi High Court on Tuesday when the Reliance petition came up for hearing. The case will be heard next on October 16.