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SC keeps pumps running
- Backlash-wary BJP heaves sigh of relief

New Delhi, Aug. 28: The Supreme Court today ordered status quo ante in the petroleum dealership scam, directing that all allotments cancelled by the Centre’s order will continue without being affected by it.

The court, however, did not stay the August 9 cancellation order. Its legality will be argued at further hearings, the last of which is slated for November 12.

The ruling, which looked like a setback to the government at first glance, sent a wave of relief among many BJP leaders, who were fearing a backlash from supporters whose licences are on the hit-list.

Officially, the BJP declined comment, saying the matter was still in court, but many leaders said in private that the Prime Minister has already proved a point by cancelling the licences.

But the Congress kept up the pressure, saying the government suppressed key facts before the court to ensure a breather for the allottees.

Petroleum minister Ram Naik, too, was beaming, secure in the realisation that he has gained time. The immediate cancellation of the licences — the government’s stated objective — would have meant an operational nightmare for his ministry.

A bench of Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal and Justices K.G. Balakrishnan and Arijit Passayat also transferred a batch of petitions to the apex court to pre-empt chances of conflicting decisions by high courts.

The apex court, which earlier refused to vacate the stay order of high courts, today further confirmed it. The interim order will supersede all interim orders of high courts and subordinate courts in the country.

The order will apply to dealers and retailers numbering between 2,248 and 3,546. A Central government lawyer said the number was variable because there were “genuine cases” like allotments to war widows, ex-service men and the handicapped.

The apex court clarified its order will not apply in cases where only letters of intent had been issued but actual commissioning was yet to be done.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the government wanted to deflect the heat by cancelling the allotments, but simultaneously “it had planned to get relief for the beneficiaries”.

“The government’s motive was exposed when it did not disclose to the court the details of statements by various dealership selection board chairpersons admitting irregularities,” Reddy said.

n See Business Telegraph

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