New Delhi: The Delhi High Court today asked Reliance Industries Ltd to give details of the number of times its officials have appeared before the Delhi government’s Anti-Corruption Branch, which is investigating the company and others for alleged irregularities in raising the price of gas from the KG-6 basin.
The court also asked the Delhi government to submit an affidavit justifying the reasons for calling the company officials and also the number of times they have been summoned. The court’s direction to the Delhi government and Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) came after the company’s lawyer alleged that the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) has been summoning its top officials merely few days before the court hearing, to harass them.
He also alleged that they were just being made to sit and nothing was being asked to them.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher asked RIL to file its affidavit giving details like how many times its officials were called, how many times they appeared, what they were asked and which documents were sought by the probe agency.
The high court was hearing a plea by RIL seeking a stay on the probe on the ground that the ACB had issued summons to its three senior officials even though the agency did not do anything since 2015. During the oral submissions, RIL’s counsel said the officials appeared before the ACB thrice from last year till now whereas the Delhi government standing counsel Ramesh Singh maintained that the officials appeared only once.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for RIL, said they were ready to cooperate and send documents which the ACB needed but they should not unnecessary call the officials and make them sit. The Delhi government’s standing counsel argued that the application seeking a stay on the probe was a “complete abuse of the process of law” and the company and its officials did not even care about the summons.
Meanwhile, the judge said that few years ago he was holding some shares of Reliance and asked the counsel for the company and the Delhi government whether they had any objection over him hearing the matter. While RIL’s counsel said they had no objection, Delhi government’s advocate said he will take instruction on it.
The court then listed the matter for further hearing on April 30. Besides the company, erstwhile UPA ministers M Veerappa Moily and Murli Deora (since dead), RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani, former Director General of Hydrocarbons V K Sibal and other unidentified persons are named in the ACB FIR, which has also been challenged by the central government.
The issue of ACB’s jurisdiction to probe such matters is pending before a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. RIL’s counsel also referred to the August 4, 2016 judgement of a division bench of the high court which had held that the powers of the ACB were limited to probing graft cases in various departments under the administrative authority of the LG, but not extending to central government employees.
The Delhi government had earlier opposed the stay application, saying the high court had granted them relief that no coercive step would be taken by the ACB. It said if the stay was granted, it would also hamper the probe in other cases relating to central government employees. The ACB had issued summons to three RIL officials in September and November last year, January and April this year asking them to join the probe.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had earlier asked the ACB to lodge an FIR in the matter. The FIR was lodged by the ACB on a complaint sent to the chief minister by former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, former secretary EAS Sarma, former navy chief R H Tahiliani and advocate Kamini Jaiswal. The UPA-II government had moved the court for quashing of the FIR, saying the ACB of the Delhi government had “no power or jurisdiction to investigate” complaints against the union government’s decision to fix prices of natural gas.
The FIR was lodged under sections for cheating and criminal conspiracy of the IPC and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. All the accused have denied the allegations. The complaint had alleged that the impact of gas price rise would cost the country a minimum of Rs 54,500 crore per year at the dollar price then.