Sucheta Dalal :Ambani gas row dominates Supreme Court proceedings in 2009
Sucheta Dalal

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Ambani gas row dominates Supreme Court proceedings in 2009  

December 29, 2009

The year 2009 saw a high-voltage legal battle between the Ambani brothers over the gas dispute reaching the Supreme Court, with a judge withdrawing from the Bench, reports PTI.


The apex court also heard a plea for bringing back black money stashed in tax havens abroad.

Top lawyers were engaged by both Mukesh Ambani group company Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and Anil Ambani-led Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL) over the dispute relating to the supply and pricing of gas from the KG Basin.


The 26-day marathon hearing was not free from controversy as a senior judge recused himself after six days of hearing. Justice RV Raveendran, who agreed to hear the matter after declaring that he held equal shares in both companies, withdrew himself from the Bench on the ground that his daughter was working in a law firm which was advising one of the entities in global projects.


The legal fight between the Ambanis saw the government in a piquant situation when RNRL accused the government of siding with RIL. The government also stepped in to defend State-run power producer NTPC Ltd, which according to the agreement with RIL, will get gas at $2.34 per unit. RNRL is seeking gas at the same rate.


The judgement in the Ambani gas row by a Bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan has been reserved.


The issue of black money stashed in foreign banks was brought before the apex court by eminent jurist Ram Jethmalani and some bureaucrats and academicians, just before the Lok Sabha elections.


A Bench headed by the Chief Justice sought explanation from the Indian government which after much dilly-dallying filed an affidavit about the steps taken by it.


The affidavit was termed as “eyewash” by the petitioners even as the government said that the enforcement directorate had already initiated proceedings against Pune-based businessman Hasan Ali Khan under the Money Laundering Act.


The matter relating to land acquisition for Special Economic Zones (SEZs) also figured in the Supreme Court.


The apex court dismissed the plea for staying the land-acquisition process for a Mukesh Ambani-promoted project in Raigarh in Maharashtra. The land-acquisition process had hit a roadblock after farmers in 22 villages opposed it in a referendum initiated by the State government last year.


The land acquisition for the SEZ, which was to come up in an area of 10,000 hectares at an investment of Rs40,000 crore, was to be completed within two years since it was given clearance in June 2005 and two extensions were subsequently granted.


The conflict of interest in hearing corporate matters came to the forefront this year in the apex court with judges forced to recuse themselves. The worst came when Justice SH Kapadia, who is next in line to be the Chief Justice of India, was accused by an advocate in an interview to a news magazine of hearing the matters of a company in which he held shares.


Justice Kapadia, who was in a Special Forest Bench, was accused of hearing the mining matter of Vedanta-Sterlite. The controversy did not end as the apex court has initiated contempt proceedings against advocate Prashant Bhushan for his alleged comments.


Later, Justice Kapadia also withdrew from the Bench hearing a matter pertaining to the public offer made by London-based Vedanta Resources to buy additional stake in iron ore exporting firm Sesa Goa as he happens to be shareholder of a sister company.


Justice Markandey Katju also realised that conflict of interest was coming in the way of his deciding the dispute between RIL and BPCL, the verdict of which he had reserved after hearing the matter for two years. The grounds cited by Justice Katju to recuse himself was that his wife held shares in RIL.


Telecom disputes particularly relating to spectrum allocation also figured in the apex court with the department of telecom rushing with an appeal against the Delhi High Court decision quashing its government order advancing the cut-off date for allocation of 2G spectrum.


Corporate crime and corruption also consumed the time of the apex court with the year commencing with matters relating to the Satyam fraud by its chief Ramalinga Raju.


While the Satyam founder was in custody, a plea by market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) was allowed, to interrogate him in prison in connection with the Rs7,800 crore scam.


The apex court also rejected the plea of financial industry magnate Nimesh N Kampani seeking quashing of criminal proceedings initiated against him by the Andhra Pradesh government in the Nagarjuna Finance scam case.


Among government matters, the income-tax department had a tough time in the apex court to explain its stand of allowing actor Amitabh Bachchan to withdraw his security expense claim amounting to around Rs6.90 crore, the actor's income from popular TV game show 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' (KBC) in 2001-02.


Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel received a setback when the apex court refused to stop criminal proceedings against him in a Rs40 crore fraud case involving a company once chaired by him.


Among environmental matters, the apex court came down heavily on the bleaching and dyeing industry in Tirupur for releasing untreated effluents into the Noyyal river.


The Reddy brothers of Karnataka got a jolt from the Supreme Court when at the fag end of the year it banned mining activity at the Anantpur village in Andhra Pradesh. However, before this incident, the mining activities in Aravali hills in Haryana were totally stopped.
— Yogesh Sapkale


-- Sucheta Dalal