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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gas is not Ambanis' private property: Govt in SC

Government on Tuesday opened its arguments in the high-voltage gas row between the Ambani brothers in the Supreme Court asserting that any understanding reached between them was not binding on it as gas was not their "private property".

"It (gas) is not the private property of RIL or RNRL. It is a national asset," Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran said while presenting the Government's case before a Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan.

No sooner the government commenced its arguments after RIL completed its submissions, RNRL's counsel Ram Jethmalani raised objections to the Petroleum Ministry being allowed to be heard as a party to the dispute.

He said the ministry had dropped its prayer in the Bombay High Court to be included as a party and was only accepted as an intervenor. Countering RNRL's stand, Parasaran said Government has every right to be a party as gas is a national asset and a natural resource.

"RIL (Mukesh Ambani's group) and RNRL cannot settle between themselves as to how the gas, which is a national asset and a natural resource, which vests in the government and which is to be utilised in the welfare of the nation, is to be distributed.

"It is not the private property of RIL or RNRL and any understanding arrived at between them is not binding upon the government," he said before the Bench, also comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and P Sathasivam.

Parasaran contested the RNRL's claim that it is entitled to a particular quantity of gas. "This cannot be sustained as it is for the government to determine as to who is entitled to the gas in terms of the Gas UtilizationPolicy", he said. Government started its submission amidst frequent interruptions by Jethmalani, who said the government stand cannot be accepted as it had withdrawn all the affidavits filed by it in the High Court.

He said even today there was no objection to RNRL if Government assisted the apex court only as an intervener.

However, if the government insists on becoming a party then RNRL should be granted the right to inspect the original documents and cross examine those who had filed the affidavits, Jethmalani said.

Parasaran went ahead with the Government stand and said, "gas has to be distributed in terms of the Gas Utilisation Policy as approved by EGoM (Empowered Group of Ministers) and marketing freedom afforded to RIL was subject to the same".

He said Government's intervention in the gas dispute was necessitated by the July 15, 2009 orders of the Bombay High Court which seriously impinged upon the rights of the Centre.

The Ambani brothers are locked in a bitter battle over the supply and price of the gas from KG basin.

While RNRL is seeking gas at a committed price of USD 2.34 per unit, RIL says it cannot honour the commitment made in the family agreement due to government's pricing and gas policies.

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