The Anti Corruption Branch (ACB) of city government has told the Delhi High Court that it was well within its right to lodge an FIR against Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and others, including the then Oil Minister, for alleged irregularities in raising gas prices.
Seeking dismissal of RIL's plea for quashing of the FIR, the ACB, in its affidavit, said that it was an "absurd" and "misconceived" plea of the private firm that gas falls under the 'Union list' of the Constitution and the state probe machinery cannot deal with such cases. "The jurisdiction of the answering respondent (ACB) or the state police cannot be judged by subjects mentioned in the Union list (List I) or state list (List II) but has to be judged on the basis of situs of the alleged crime. "The complaint disclosed commission of the offences in Delhi, and ACB having jurisdiction over national capital territory of Delhi, has validly exercised the jurisdiction to investigate. Once the commission of cognizable offence is made out in the complaint, it makes no difference as to who is the complainant," the affidavit, filed by Kailash Chandra, Secretary-cum-Director of Vigilance department, said.
The Kejriwal-led Delhi government had lodged the FIR naming the then Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily, RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani and others on gas pricing issue and had alleged that the Congress-led UPA government "favoured" RIL with an eye on 2014 general elections and BJP maintained "silence" hoping to gain corporate funding for the polls. The charges had been denied by the RIL and others. The ACB, in its reply, has sought dismissal of the RIL's plea on various grounds including that instead of filing a criminal writ petition, a civil one has been filed by the firm. The ACB, which had received a complaint on February 10 from former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanium and others, said, "the complaint allege abuse of the official position by ministers and Central government officials...".
Citing an apex court judgement, it said,"the registration of the FIR is mandatory under section 154 of the CrPC, if the information discloses commission of a cognizable offence and no preliminary enquiry is permissible in such a situation."
The ACB also referred to two notifications to drive home the point that the ACB will have jurisdiction all the over the national capital territory of Delhi. "It is humbly submitted that earlier in time and prior to the present petition, the ACB has conducted investigation into the reported crimes wherein upon investigation/enquiry, it was found that the employees of the Central government were involved, despite the same the investigation of ACB continued," the affidavit said.
It said that in 2004, the Centre had signed a long term gas supply agreements with NTPC and the private firm at the rate of USD 2.34 per mmBtu and later in 2007, the price of gas was fixed at USD 4.24 per mmBtu.
Later, the gas price, to be paid to the firms with effect from April 1, 2014, was again hiked to USD 8.4 per mmBtu by the then Oil minister, the ACB said, adding that the cost incurred, however, is less than USD 1 per mmBtu. "The higher cost of production of gas has been claimed on the basis of artificial expenses which have been made through group companies in respect of procurement of equipments for the oil exploration and all these would be the subject matter of investigation to find out as to whether there is any criminality on the part of the petitioner in the entire transaction or not," it said.
Justice Manmohan, on August 6, has recused from hearing the case and it will now come up for hearing before another bench on August 19.
Earlier, the court had restrained the ACB from taking any coercive action against the accused. It, however, had said that ACB can continue with its investigation into the matter. The UPA-II had also moved the court seeking quashing of the FIR saying the ACB of the Delhi Government has "no powers or jurisdiction to investigate" complaints against the Union Government's decision to fix prices of natural gas.
He said that Delhi government should have approached CBI, as it is an appropriate agency for investigation of such cases.
The Union Government had said that it was not going into the merits of the allegation as the issue was pending before the Supreme Court and its petition was seeking to declare that the ACB has no jurisdiction in regard to employees/public servants of the central government and to quash the FIR.