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Delhi huddle after gas flare-up

New Delhi, July 28: Anil Ambani’s sharp outburst over the gas dispute with Reliance Industries prompted finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to go into a huddle here today with the ministers of law and petroleum to consider the government’s stand in the whole episode.

Sources said additional solicitor-general Mohan Parasaran and the secretaries of the law and petroleum ministries were also present at the 70-minute huddle.

Mukherjee had headed the group of ministers that approved a gas price of $4.20 per million British thermal unit in September 2007.

All those present at the meeting agreed that the government’s move to file a petition before the Supreme Court to assert its ownership of the gas was the right step and that it could not be accused of taking a partisan stand in the dispute between the Ambani brothers.

Sources in the petroleum ministry said they could file a contempt petition against RNRL and Anil Ambani for discussing the issues before a public forum when the matter was sub judice.

However, RIL counsel Harish Salve told a television channel late tonight that he didn’t think that Ambani’s attack amounted to contempt of court though it did smack of disrespect to the highest court in the country and its traditions.

Petroleum minister Murli Deora — who is in the eye of the storm — brushed off all accusations of a partisan and biased attitude. “I have no comments to make as the matter is sub-judice. All I can say (to Anil) is best of luck,” he said.

Petroleum secretary R.S. Pandey also refused to comment.

“We are not partisan in the (RIL-RNRL) case. We moved (court) to protect the larger public interest. We can answer whatever is being said in the court,” Parasaran told reporters.

In its special leave petition before the Supreme Court, the petroleum minister said the government was the owner of the gas and asked the court to declare as “null and void” the Ambani family settlement that formed the basis for the supply of gas to RNRL.

If the family pact is allowed, the petition had claimed that the “whole country will be subservient to RIL (for gas) and RIL will dictate the industrial development of the country.”

Sources in the oil ministry said the government would stick to its stand that the natural gas in the country was owned by it and RIL was only a contractor. It did not have the right to enter into a contract to sell to any firm without the consent of the government.

Officials argued that the government’s role was not just restricted to collecting royalty and profit petroleum, but also to ensure equitable industrial development.

The KG-D6 gas field is producing over 30 million cubic metres of gas a day that will go up to over 80 MMSCMD by the end of the year.

Under the government’s directions, RIL is supplying 15 million cubic metres of gas a day to fertiliser plants. It has earmarked up to 18 MSCMD for power plants, 3 MMSCMD for LPG plants and 5 MMSCMD for households and the transport sector.

The government SLP said 15 MMSCMD of gas to fertiliser plants would lead to a national saving of Rs 3000 crore a year on account of the fertiliser subsidies it pays out.

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