Saturday, October 24, 2009

another RIL scam of epic proportions

On March 19, 2003, Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Ltd (RGTIL) was formed as a subsidiary of Reliance Industries for transportation of gas extracted from RIL's gas fields in KG Basin. On August 18, 2004, RGTIL while it was still a 100 % subsidiary of RIL was granted approval by the petroleum ministry to transport 80 million units of gas per day from Kakinada to Bharuch, passing through four states - AP, Karanataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

On April 21, RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani quietly without any disclosure stripped RGTIL from RIL and converted it into his personal property at a meagre price of just Rs 5 lakhs. Through a maze of private companies owned by Mukesh Ambani namely Lordwest Invest & Trading, Shangrila Invest & Trading, Proline Invest, Jigna Fiscal, Vayudoot Invest & Trading, Yashasvi Holding and Anumati Mercantile, he now controlled 100 per cent of what was till then a 100 % subsidiary of RIL. It was a classic manoeuvre.

All the above companies have Reliance employees as directors. Their registered office addresses are also the same as the other companies (promoters and persons acting in concert of RIL). The registered office address of these individuals are 84A Mittal Court, 505 Dalamal House, 147 Atlanta; all known Reliance Group offices in Mumbai's Nariman Point area.

This year, the Union Budget presented in July inserted a new section 35D in the Income Tax Act, 1961 which allows 100 % of capital expenditure incurred on setting up and operating natural gas or crude oil pipeline network as 100 % tax deduction in the very first year. Capital expenditure is never allowed as revenue expenditure in the first year. The beneficiary of this scam is none other than Mukesh Ambani who has once again twisted the law to suit himself. Sum total accruing to Mukesh Ambani is Rs 20,000 crore.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

mukesh ambani's ever growing media empire


Unobtrusively, the Indian media sweepstakes are changing hue. There is a new media magnate in town and his name is Mukesh Ambani. One of the learnings transposed from the battle with his younger brother Anil was that media had to be controlled. Younger brother Anil used the media to his advantage in the battle for the Ambani inheritance. Slowly and steadily Mukesh Ambani’s gigantic footprint is now visible in the electronic news media. And the planning has been systematic and calibrated. A classical waterfall structure has been used to hide the identity of the real owner through a maze of companies, cross holdings and complex transactions. But a paper trail following the annual returns filed by various involved companies reveals the true identity of Mukesh Ambani. He has managed to systematically carve a wide swathe over the electronic news world. All the operations have been conducted in Ambani’s trademark shadowy manner. With a silent signature using a maze of privately owned companies with bizarre names.


Let us look at one of the largest benami owned media empires in India and its architecture. By investing Rs 76 crore in Rajeev Shukla/ Anuradha Prasad owned BAG group companies, Mukesh Ambani has a major presence in TV news channels – News 24, E 24, Dhamal 24 etc. As always a web of disparate and obscure companies which own High Growth Distributors have invested Rs 76 crore to acquire 12 per cent in BAG Films & Media Ltd, 15 per cent in BAG Newsline Network Ltd and 15 per cent in BAG Glamour Ltd.. The clutch of private companies which owns High Growth Distributors are Reliance Commercial Holdings Pvt Ltd, Reliance Investment Enterprises Pvt Ltd, Reliance Explorations Pvt Ltd, Kudrat Investment & Leasing Pvt Ltd, Saumya Finance & leasing Co Pvt Ltd, Ornate Traders Pvt Ltd, Xanti Commercial Pvt Ltd, Tiara Comtrade Pvt Ltd, Hitech Dealers Pvt Ltd and Legal Outsourcing Pvt Ltd.

The Fourth Annual Report (2007-08) of High Growth Distributors Pvt Ltd shows that it has made Long Term Investments in unquoted equity shares fully paid of Hitech Dealers Pvt Ltd, Legal Outsourcing Pvt Ltd, Sarvasiddhi Commercials Pvt Ltd, Xanti Commercial Pvt Ltd and Tiara Comtrade Pvt Ltd. That is not as important as its other investments in equity shares quoted fully paid up in BAG Film Ltd amounting to Rs 26.15 crore, BAG Glamour Pvt Ltd Rs 24.99 crore and BAG Newsline amounting to Rs 24.99 crore. All told High Growth’s investments in BAG Group companies thus comes to Rs 76.15 crore.

The NSE shareholding filing of BAG Films and Media Ltd as of December 31, 2008 clearly states that High Growth Distributors Pvt Ltd owns 13078000 shares amounting to 11.59 per cent of the company. Similarly the Annual Return (Registration No 162904) filed by BAG Newsline Network Pvt Ltd clearly shows that High Growth Distributors Pvt Ltd owns 2571428 shares in the company. The Annual return of BAG Glamour Pvt Ltd (Registration No 160548) similarly shows that High Growth Distributors Pvt Ltd owns 2571428 shares in the company.

So, who owns High Growth Distributors Pvt Ltd with its Registered Office at 26, Chittranjan Avenue, Kolkata 700012? Legal Outsourcing Pvt Ltd Fourth Annual Report 2007-08 also states that its Registered Office is 26 Chittranjan Avenue, Kolkata 700012. This in turn has investments in Hitech Dealers Pvt Ltd, High Growth Distributors Pvt Ltd, Sarvasiddhi Commercials Pvt Ltd, Xanti Commercial Pvt Ltd and Tiara Comtrade Pvt Ltd. Hitech Dealers is also showing the same address for its Registered Office. And this company too has investments in several of the above mentioned companies. All these companies incidentally have a common auditor - chartered accountant firm in D Dokania and Co.

Xanti Commercial Pvt Ltd has its Registered Office in 84 A Mittal Court, 8th Floor, 224 , Nariman Point, Mumbai 400021 and their auditors are Joy Dalia & Co Xanti’s long term investments are in a wide variety of companies including Reliance Consolidated Pvt Ltd, Reliance Enterprises Holding Pvt Ltd, Reliance Extrusions Pvt Ltd, Reliance Gas Pvt Ltd, Reliance Group Holding, Reliance Group Enterprises, Reliance Group Investments and Holding, Reliance Industries Holding, Reliance Industries Investments and Holding, Reliance Investment and Trading, Reliance Investment Holding, Relogistics Infrastructure, Relogistics based in Pune, Delhi, Rajasthan, Jamshedpur and many more. A usual suspect Tiara Comtrade also pops up in this list. Then the tell tale signs surface.

In the list of related parties with whom transactions have taken place in the past and relationships exist are familiar names – High Growth Distributors and Hitech Dealers. Tiara Comtrade has a similar history. Among its long term investments are listed Reliance Integrated Agrisolutions previously known as Urja Trading, all the Relogistics companies and myriad other names which leave little to imagination. The list of related parties with whom transactions have taken place and relationship exists include High Growth Distributors and Hitech Dealers. Tiara Comtrade’s registered office is the same as Xanti Commercial’s. One of the directors is common – Shailesh Solanki and the majority of the investments are common too. The annual returns of Xanti and Tiara show the funding received from the private companies of Mukesh Ambani through debentures.


BAG Group of Companies is only one of several outfits controlled by Mukesh Ambani through a web of transactions. Take India TV of Independent News Services. Mukesh Ambani Group through Reliance Chemicals Pvt Ltd, a 100 per cent subsidiary of Reliance Industries (Rs 100 cr); Reliance Ventures Pvt Ltd, another RIL 100 per cent subsidiary (Rs 20.20 cr) and Limca Commercials Rs 24 cr(private company owned by Mukesh Ambani) has invested Rs 145 crore in Shyam Equities Pvt Ltd, All told he has acquired 70,25,765 shares of Rs 10 each for an astounding premium of 1323 per cent.

Tally Solutions jointly controlled by Mukesh Ambani group and Bharat Goenka has Anand Jain and Manoj Modi on its board. Both are well known confidants of Mukesh Ambani. Shyam Equities Pvt Ltd is a 100 per cent subsidiary of Tally. It is a shell company, Tally has actually invested Rs 1.80 lakh only in Shyam. Shyam Equities owns 23 per cent in Independent News Services Pvt Ltd which owns India TV. The Annual Return of Tally Solutions Pvt Ltd 2007-08 registration number 08-12483 clearly shows that Bharat Goenka, his wife Sheela Goenka, Anand Jaikumar Jain and Manoj Harjivandas Modi are directors. The Director’s Report of Tally reveals that it had three subsidiaries including Shyam Equities Pvt Ltd in which it has invested a paltry Rs 179,990. However, the balance sheet audited by Deloitte Haskins & Sells for Shyam Equities Pvt Ltd shows that under the unsecured loans head – Digivision DTH Services, Limca Commercials, Reliance Chemical and Reliance Ventures have forwarded as much as Rs 1,642,028,000 establishing Mukesh Ambani group’s clear cut complicity.

Reliance Industries Ltd’s Annual report page 149 for FY 2007-08 lists Reliance Ventures Ltd as a subsidiary of RIL. Moreover, Reliance Chemicals is shown as a subsidiary under RIL’s disclosure dated October 3, 2008 to the Bombay Stock Exchange. The annual return filed by Limca Commercials Pvt Ltd clearly shows that all the shareholders of Limca have their address at 84A Mittal Court, Nariman Point, Mumbai, the home for all the promoter and privately owned companies of RIL. Yes, this is the same address of Xanti Commercial and Tiara Comtrade which have invested in BAG Films through the waterfall structure route. Finally the Shyam Equities balance sheet seals the deal where under the investments head, it shows that it has made an investment in Independent News Services Pvt Ltd buying 70,25,765 shares of Rs 100 each at premium of Rs 42.33 per share fully paid up valued at cost.


The most recent foray into news media is actually a consolidation of his earlier investments. For long there has been talk that Mukesh Ambani was an investor in the beleaguered INX Media, but there was nothing to substantiate it. Earlier this year, Vinay Chajlani and Jehangir Pocha formed Indi Media to acquire INX News from INX Media. Media industry pegged the size of the deal to roughly Rs 50 crore. That was the official version. The real version is that Vinay Chajlani Group also owns Suvi Info Management and its 100 per cent subsidiary Nai Duniya News and Network Pvt Ltd. By virtue of this, Chajlani also owns Nai Duniya newspapers.

The Annual Returns of Suvi Info Management (Indore) Pvt Ltd (registration number 018339) shows Vinay Chajlani and Sunita Chajlani as shareholders and directors of the company. Importantly, the balance sheet of Suvi Info under schedule C investments shows 6734700 equity shares were owned in Nai Dunia News and Network Pvt Ltd at Rs 57.50 per share amounting to Rs 387245300 or Rs 38 crore.

Mukesh Ambani Group has funded Vinay Chajlani Group investing Rs 38 crore in Suvi Info through Aarthik Commercials Pvt Ltd. Aarthik Commercials is a private company owned by Mukesh Ambani, as always through a web of front companies namely Reliance Petromarketing Infrastructure, Jamnagar Kandla Pipeline Co, Agni Fuels, Avalanche Fuels, Jubilant Autofuels Trading, Steadfast Fuel Trading. All these private companies once again throw up the same name – Reliance Industries. Schedule B of Suvi Info’s balance sheet 2006-07 shows an unsecured loan given by Aarthik Commercials amounting to Rs 38 crore. The Annual Returns filed by Aarthik Commercials, 307 Parekh Market, 3rd Floor, 39, Jagannath Shankar Seth Road, Opra House, Mumbai list all the names given above. Each of these entities Jubilant, Avalanche, Agni, Reliance Petromarketing, Steadfast Fuel and Jamnagar Kandla own 10,000 shares between them in the company. And the address for all these entities a dead giveaway – Ground Floor, Chitrakoot, Shreeram Mills Compound, Gantpatrao Kadam Marg, Worli, Mumbai 400013, a known RIL establisment.

In many ways, Mukesh Ambani has tried very hard to conceal his identity. While the RIL promoter has stuck to his theme of compartmentalizing one investment from the other, the paper trail leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind. When one connects the dots, it is evident that Mukesh Ambani wants to control media by making strategic investments in the electronic media. The investments are extremely strategic – an English news channel News X, a Hindi news channel – India TV which caters to the lowest common sensibilities and another Hindi news and Bollywood channel – BAG Group. Finally there is the big investment in a slew of regional channels (see Box).


The mother of all his investments in the media sector is the one in Eenadu newspaper and ETV Network which controls and owns ETV Telugu, Bangla, Bihar, Gujarati, Kannada, Madhya Pradesh, Marathi, Oriya, Rajasthan, Urdu, Uttar Pradesh, ETV 2 (Telugu news channel). This gives Mukesh Ambani complete control of the regional mind space. This investment unlike the others is extremely controversial. Overall, Mukesh Ambani using his oft repeated stratagem has invested Rs 1500 crore in Ushoday Enterprises by acquiring 26930 shares of Rs 100 each at a premium of 528,630 per cent.

When Blackstone Group invested $275 million in Ushoday Enterprises, a virtual tug of war broke out between Ramoji Rao owner of Eenadu and Ushoday on the one hand and late state chief minister Y Rajshekhara Reddy. The late Reddy winged in a spanner saying that Rao could not use the proceeds to pay embattled sister company Margadarsi Financiers. This ultimately resulted in Blackstone having to pull out, such was the ferocity of the opposition. This is when JM Financial promoter Nimesh Kampani arrived as a white knight and made the acquisition on behalf of Mukesh Ambani. Then Kampani himself got entrapped in a case and was reportedly hiding in Dubai.

So how did Kampani front for Reliance Industries? Well he constructed Equator and Altitude to hoodwink the law. But the long arm of the law caught up with him. Reliance Industrial Investment & Holdings (RIIHL) is a 100 percent subsidiary of Reliance Industries. RIIHL is the vehicle through which 10.47 crore (6.66 percent) treasury shares of RIL were held. The RIL Annual Report 2007-08 shows RIIHL as a 100 percent subsidiary. The shareholding pattern of RIL for December 2008 shows the shareholding of the Petroleum Trust. The Petroleum Trust through the Trustees for the sole beneficiary – Ms RIIHL owning 6.66 percent. Since then Mukesh Ambani has extinguished the treasury stock through a buy back which left analysts in a tizzy.

Now RIIHL held the treasury stock through the Petroleum Trust and Nimesh Kampani was the Trustee of the Petroleum Trust. The scheme of Merger of reliance Petroleum Ltd and reliance Industries Ltd of 2002 – page no 166 – shows the provisions of the Trust created for five years. On December 9, 2004, Business Standard reported that Petroleum Trust was not part of the promoter holding in RIL. BS wrote, “Following the amalgamation of Reliance Petroleum with RIL, the shares of RIL were allotted to the trust. RIIHL, being a 100 percent subsidiary of RIL could not hold the shares of the parent company under law. So, the Petroleum Trust was created to house the newly created shares of RIL after the merger. But since the property belonged to RIIHL, it was named the ‘sole beneficiary’implying that all the financial benefits arising out of the ownership of RIL shares would flow to RIIHL.”

When the merger was announced in April 2002, it was stated by then RIL MD Anil Ambani that 12.2 percent (7.5 percent then held by the Trust and 4.7 percent held by RIL associate companies) would be sold to strategic investors, financial institutions or overseas via ADRs or GDRs in five years. The two trustees of the Trust were Nimesh Kampani and Vishnubhai B Haribhakti. But the BSE continues to show the Trust holding as part of promoter holding.

RIIHL formerly known as Trishna Investments and Leasings in turn controls 100 percent equity of Shinano Retail Pvt Ltd. Shinano is held by way of two inter woven and inter linked companies both held under inter se and RIIHL. Once again the leads are provided by the Annual Returns of Shinano Retail (registration no 176418) which held its first AGM as recently as September 22, 2008. The Annexure to clause V of the Companies Act 1956 details that RIIHL (Maker Chambers IV, 222 Nariman Point) and Teesta Retail (Chitrakoot, Shreeram Mills Compound, Worli) held 5000 shares each in the entity as of 22.9.08. Further, these shares were transferred in the names of RIIHL and Teesta by Reliance Elastomers and Reliance Industrial Enterprises respectively on 28.1.08. The same held good for Teesta Retail as well where RIIHL and Shinano Retail held 5000 shares each and the modus operandi was the same as these shares were transferred by Reliance Elastomers and Reliance Industrial Enterprises.

Now comes the classic RIL twist in the tale. Obfuscation being the core value, Shinano has funded Kavindra Commercials with Rs 1054 crore and an additional Rs 952 crore was given to Devki Commercials through convertible loans. Once again, operating through a maze of transactions, both Kavindra and Devki are held inter se and also through inter woven companies namely Teesta and Shinano, accordingly fully held by RIL through its subsidiary. Form 18 of Kavindra and Annual Return dated 26.9.08 of Devki clearly show their addresses as 84A Mittal Court, Nariman Point which are addresses of other Reliance owned entities used to make investments in media companies. Interestingly, schedule I, point number 8 in Annual report of RIIHL (wholly owned subsidiary of RIL) shows Shinano and Teesta as Associate companies from January 28, 2008.

The trail gets stronger when one gets to the balance sheet of Shinano for 2007-08 where schedule D, point number 5 in the notes to accounts shows loan of Rs 1054 crore from Shinano. Similarly the balance sheet of Devki for 2007-08 schedule B, point number 5 in notes to accounts shows loan of Rs 952 crore. Shinano lent an aggregate amount of Rs 2006 crore. Of this Rs 1054 crore is given to Kavindra and Rs 952 crore to Devki. The Annual Returns of Kavindra and Devki show the inter woven shareholding along with Shinano and Teesta.

It is here that Nimesh Kampani is rewarded for his loyalty by Mukesh Ambani. Remember that Kampani was the valuer during the family settlement between the two brothers presided over by the mother. Kavindra then diverted Rs 1054 crore received from Shinano to Altitude Mercantile and Equator Trading through debentures. Now the case gets curiouser. Altitude and Equator are owned privately by Nimesh Kampani. The balance sheet of Kavindra for the year 2007-08, schedule C shows investment of Rs 99.99 crore in debentures of Altitude and investment of Rs 954 crore in debentures of Equator. Devki did likewise, a mirror image of the transaction where it diverted rs 952 crore received from Shinano to Altitude and Equator through debentures. The balance sheet of Devki 2007-08 schedule C shows investment of Rs 100.49 crore in debentures of Altitude and investment of Rs 850 crore in debentures of Equator.

Form 2 filed by Equator Trading Enterprises shows allotment of 1,999,900,000 shares to Altitude Mercantile with 141, Maker Chambers 111, Nariman Point on January 30, 2008, making it a subsidiary. Similarly Form 18 and 32 of Altitude and Equator shows a common address as are the directors on the boards of the company. The crucial link then is Form 2 dated 29.1.2008 filed with the Registrar of Companies by Altitude which shows Kampani Properties and Holdings Ltd (holding 40 percent of the equity) and JM Assets Management holding 15 percent of the equity.

Altitude has used Rs 200 crores received from Kavindra and Devki to acquire equity shares of Equator. Altitude is having a paid up share capital of only Rs 1 crore. Form 2 filed with RoC shows shares allotted to Altitude. If your head is spinning with these names, then the objective has been achieved, for this veritable maze has been deliberately created to confuse the trackers. Equator then used Rs 1424 crores received from Devki and Kavindra to acquire 26,930 equity shares of Rs 100 each at a premium of Rs 528,630 per share of Ushodaya. Once again the paper trail gives the evidence. Since government of India makes it mandatory to make these filings, all this is recorded for posterity.

Form 2 dated 30.1.2008 filed by Ushodaya with RoC shows shares allotted to Equator and premium of Rs 528,630 per share paid. Media reports surface dated 2.2.2008 and 13.2. 2008 on investment in Eenadu Group by private companies of Nimesh Kampani. Ushodaya is the holding company of media baron Ramoji Rao who is the owner of Eenadu Group. Prior to the deal with Kampani, he owned 99.86 percent of Ushodaya.

Now with chief minister YS Reddy having died in an untimely helicopter crash, the decks have been cleared for Kampani’s return to India.

The moot point is that Mukesh Ambani’s octopus like tentacles across the media vector have not been understood by the common man. By enveloping Eenadu, he got a major foothold in the powerful regional media which was important for his retail plans at that point in time. He has also been fighting a legal battle with his brother on KG Basin gas and print and television mouthpieces would only add to his clout to spread disinformation. The idea at all times being to control without coming to the fore. By using his enormous financial clout he has managed to grab several entities. The question is whether they are the right vehicles in this age of fragmented and diffused media.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

long winded DGH advert of no consequence

DGH V K Sibal is showing unnecessary aggression for a man caught in a cleft stick. I guess he is opting for the old tactic of attack being the best defence. Seeking an extension, Sibal who is battling favouritism and corruption charges is in the dock for helping Reliance Industries gold plate its KG D 6 capex development plan. By putting out a full page advertisement in the national dailies, he is burning a hole in tax payers money. The advert comes a day after the Central Vigilance Commissioner asked the CBI to probe allegations of favours received by the oil regulator from RIL for approving a near four fold hike in the oil field development plan.

This comes quickly on the heels of a Pioneer expose on the nexus between Sibal and RIL and charges of Sibal's daughters enjoying the hospitality of RIL in Mumbai. Sibal when contacted by Pioneer in his usual bluster did not deny that his daughters had stayed in RIL guest houses while studying and working in the city. But as a government regulator in an age of austerity, this nexus is going to cost Sibal dearly. Talk in the capital is that Sibal will not get an extension after October 31 and the feeble attempts at putting out an advertisement in the press don't count at this stage.

We wonder whether the oil minister Murli Deora approved this insertion by the DGH and whether L N Gupta, CVO in the oil ministry knew of this advertisement. Austerity be damned as the independent republic of oil ministry continues in its merry ways.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

sibal - mr crony capitalism

The Pioneer's investigation on Thursday on the nexus between RIL and DGH VK Sibal has once again exposed the allegations of crony capitalism in India's bureaucracy. What is perhaps more intriguing is Sibal's reaction to the expose where he brazens it out by saying - so what?

Here is the Pioneer lead story. Judge for yourself:

CVC examining use of RIL facilities by DG Hydrocarbon’s daughters Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”: The famous saying holds relevance even today, particularly for those who are in public service. But, some just don’t care. VK Sibal, the Director General Hydrocarbons whose extension of tenure is under CVC scanner, is suspected to have taken favours for his daughters — Priya and Sonia Sibal — from Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), the company whose capital expenditure plan for KG Basin was increased from $2.4 billion to $8.8 billion in 2006. Sibal had given the approval for this. In this connection, Sibal had raised a controversy when he declared that, in 2005-06, CAG had approved the capital expenditure of KG D6 fields, a claim the CAG denied stating that no such approval had been accorded.Sibal is to end his tenure on October 31, 2009. But the Minister of Petroleum has recommended two-year extension for him, which needs clearance from the CVC. However, the CVC is in a fix following complaints of Sibal’s proximity with several business contractors whose project clearances were accorded by him.Even while RIL’s request for increasing capex for KG basin was pending before Sibal, the information with The Pioneer indicates that Sibal’s daughters used posh RIL guesthouses in Mumbai extensively for four-five months.As Director General Hydrocarbons, Sibal would not have faced any problem in arranging a guesthouse for his daughters in Mumbai, as all public sector oil companies, including ONGC, IOC and GAIL, have such facilities in the metropolis. But his choice for RIL’s guesthouse raises eyebrows, as it is inappropriate to accept favours from a contractor, who is coming for sanction of his projects.Sonia Sibal stayed at a VIP guesthouse of RIL — Dalal House — from July to November 2005. Dalal House is said to be the erstwhile residence of Nita Ambani. In November same year, Sibal's another daughter Priya Sibal also stayed at Dalal House. Later, from April to July 2006, Priya stayed at another guesthouse of RIL —Trivoli Guest House — at Hiranandani in Mumbai.According to sources, the CVC is also looking into the ‘relationship’ between Sibal and RIL, especially when hands off distance should have been maintained.The matter does not end here. Later, Priya moved out of RIL’s guesthouse and shifted to a spacious 3BHK flat in Avalon at Hiranandani Gardens, Powai. But, the host still remained the same. This is how: RIL acquired a small firm called Whitesnow Trading Private Limited in May 2008 and the flat was bought in the name of Whitesnow in the same month.Whitesnow Trading Private Limited was incorporated in March 2006 by Vijay Dargar and Reena Dargar. After RIL’s acquisition in May, officials of RIL — Nilesh M Mehta and Deepa Sangani —were appointed directors of Whitesnow.Priya's stay in this flat can be proved from the fact that Whitesnow, in a letter dated June 7, 2006, wrote to the apartment asking them "to issue club house ID card to Priya and her family". The demands made by Priya in her e-mail on July 17, 2006 included an LG television and refrigerator and Whirlpool washing machine.The guest was so important for RIL that top notch officials of the company "personally" took care of making her stay comfortable. The supervision of furnishing, furniture and installation of white goods worth Rs 6.5 lakh in the flat was "personally" was done by president of RIL's Oil and Gas Division PMS Prasad and chief financial controller LV Merchant. They approved these expenses also.Sibal has been continuously saying that his relationship with RIL is "only official". These words even found resonance in his reply to Director (Vigilance) Maninder Singh in December 14, 2007. Do these personal care accorded by RIL officials signify the relation being official in any way, as claimed by Sibal?It's altogether a different matter that Priya moved from Avalon after 18 months of stay to another flat in Oshimara, Andheri West, purchased at a cost of Rs 1.7 crore. But for Sibal, the practice of taking favours from contractors seems natural. Unethical it might be, but Sibal continues to avail favours from his contractors. His present residence in Noida is rented to him by a company called Ambience Exim Private Limited. Sibal might like to call this a coincidence, but this company "secured oil and gas block in the Government of India's auction process".VK Sibal: I didn’t favour RIL in exchange.

The Pioneer sought VK Sibal’s response with regard to the allegations. This is his response:“My daughter, Priya was staying in various locations in Mumbai since the year 2001. She was staying in a private accommodation in Kalina, Mumbai, in the year 2005. However, during the floods in Mumbai, the area she was staying got flooded due to which she went missing for 2 days and had to shift to an apartment located on higher grounds for a few days as a stop-gap emergency measure.My daughter Sonia was studying in the Institute of Hotel Management, Aurangabad, during the period 2004-07 and was staying in a hostel.My daughter Priya had a lease agreement with the party for the flat in Hiranandani referred by you for which advance was also paid. An amount of Rs 3 lakh and utility charges of Rs 3,000 per month was paid. She stayed off and on with her friend in the same accommodation. Necessary documentary evidence in support of this is available with us. Notwithstanding the fact that this is a bonafide arrangement, it is surprising that you should allege that favours have been taken from RIL. If these allegations were true, there would not have been any need to pay the advance or the utility charges to the owner. Contrary to your allegation that favors were taken from RIL, a penalty was imposed on RIL during the period October-November 2006 amounting to approximately Rs 89 crore against unfinished work programme in their petroleum exploration acreages, details of which are available with us.I do not understand as to why you should link purely official responsibilities with bonafide personal dealings. I am sure that you can understand the hidden agenda of the people behind these allegations and propaganda. The story has been circulated among the media surreptitiously by vested interests. It is surprising that a well-known newspaper should fall prey to the machinations of a vested interest. Despite the above clarifications, if you still want to publish the story, it will be even more obvious that a section of the media has been pressurised or influenced by an interested party.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

ril's task getting onerous

The waters are getting muddier and muddier for Reliance Industries. In the run up to the SC hearings on the Ambani gas opera beginning from October 20 on Monday, Anil Ambani group firm RNRL fired a fresh salvo seeking to intervene in the NTPC-RIL gas dispute in the Supreme Court (SC), saying the issues raised by the power PSU directly affected its own case against the Mukesh Ambani-led firm. In an intervention application filed with the apex court, RNRL said that RIL's argument, placed by way of an amendment to its written statements in NTPC suit, is an issue in the SLP (special leave petition) filed by RIL in the Supreme Court in the RIL-RNRL matter.

"It is submitted that the issues that arise in the case filed by NTPC in the Supreme Court directly affect its (RNRL's) case against Reliance Industries," RNRL said, adding it was therefore necessary that it was permitted to be impleaded as a party in the NTPC-RIL case. It is clear that RNRL is now using the NTPC intervention as a rump to further its own case. It needs to be mentioned that the basic premise of RNRL's $2.34 per million unit for 17 years is NTPC's gas supply contract with RIL for a similar price and tenure. The same has been validated by the Bombay High Court in its judgment of June 15.

NTPC moved the Supreme Court on September 5, challenging a Bombay High Court decision that allowed RIL to amend its petition on the gas dispute citing the government's pricing policy. A Division Bench of the High Court had allowed amendment in the petition wherein RIL had prayed that the government's gas pricing policy would frustrate its contract with NTPC.

NTPC had moved the Bombay High Court seeking 12 million units of gas from RIL, which had emerged winner in a global competitive bid quoting a price of $2.34 per million unit. RIl has challenged the Bombay High Court verdict in favour of RNRL in the SC.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

ril's illegal levy

Reliance Industries is increasingly getting boxed in. Between NTPC and RNRL's pincer moves, RIL has no room to manoeuvre. Its only fall back being that the cases are pending in SC. NTPC's devastating critique of RIL's malafide intent in not providing gas despite having signed a gas supply agreement has now been followed up by RNRL's attck on RIL charging unauthorised marketing margins.

This is resulting in a potential loss of Rs 10,000 crore to the government in the form of subsidies to power and fertiliser firms. RNRL latest charge is,"RIL's illegal levy of marketing margin is a double whammy. On the one hand the government is denied its lawful share of the additional sales realisation generated by RIL through this levy; and on the other hand the government also has to eventually pay for this additional burden in the form of enhanced subsidy for the fertiliser and power sectors. A shocking case of illegal transfer of over Rs 10,000 crore from government coffers to RIL."

RIL is charging unauthorised marketing margin of 13.5 cents (Rs 6.6) per million unit on the sale of D6 block in KG Basin. The government meanwhile is moving towards protecting its interests in KG Basin gas by giving priority to state owned petrochemical plants and refineries over RIL's downstream facilities. RIL has demanded 20 million units of gas for captive requirement. The government will consider RIL's request only when the allocation of next 40 million units per day is considered.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

family demerger incomplete as ril plays truant

With RNRL replying to the RIL SLP with a fresh affidavit in the SC, the rules of battle when the court begins its hearing have been spelt out. RNRL has made a very important observation in its fresh affidavit. It says that the supply of gas by RIL to RNRL is an integral part of the demerger of the family business. It also says that that the production sharing contract between RIL and the government gave the former freedom to price and market the gas.

By not giving the gas to RNRL, RNRL is now clearly taking the position that the demerger of the family business remains incomplete and it is well within the purview of the apex court to ensure that this process is completed rapidly. The affidavit filed by RNRL counsel Mahesh Aggarwal has thus raised important questions of the sanctity and legality of the family business demerger.

The affidavit says, "The scheme contemplates that suitable arrangement to be put in place for supply of gas. Until and unless a suitable arrangement is executed, the scheme is not fully implemented and the demerger of the business is not complete." By raising a fundamental question on the validity of the family demerger, RNRL is now asking the SC to enforce its closure. The scheme of demerger has been ratified by the board of RIL of which Mukesh Ambani is chairman, its shareholders and of course the Bombay High Court and yet Mukesh Ambani continues to play truant with the gas supply.

The affidavit also goes on to say that the RIL-RNRL agreement for supply of gas does not affect the government's gas utilisation policy - under the PSC, the supply of gas is not subject to any gas utilisation policy. The petitioners - RIL and the oil ministry - are seeking to misinterpret the terms of the PSC to suggest that any sale of gas has to be in accordance with the gas utilisation policy. Brace yourself for some exciting hearings in the SC.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

tried and tested acolytes try damage limitation

News doing the rounds over the last week or so in capital town is that RIL's man in the Rajya Sabha - MP Parimal Nathwani - is running around trying to do deals on behalf of his master in the run up to the SC hearing fixed for October 20 and beyond. Using the forthcoming Diwali festival as an excsuse, he is trying to provide gifts and such items to various players in the gas opera.

After proclaiming his loyalty to his master Mukesh Ambani on the floor of the house recently, the Gujarat strongman who is chief lieutenant Manoj Modi's brother in law is busy talking up one and all in the capital. Manoj Modi incidentally is running black ops in the Mukesh Ambani camp, though one hears that discredited Anand Jain is also back in the hunt to manage the gas environment. With oil minister Murli Deora keeping a low profile after the PM reprimanded him over his shoddy conduct in the whole gas affair, Mukesh Ambani is using his tried and tested acolytes. It remains to be seen whether these cartridges are spent or loaded.

ntpc finally in the SC mix

After making all the right noises in the recent past, NTPC has stuck to its stand and is ready to challenge Reliance Industries in the Supreme Court for displaying malafide intent vis a vis its commitment to supply gas to the Kawas and Gandhar plants. By filing an appeal on Saturday, it questioned RIL's attempts at wriggling out. Moreover, it challenged a Bombay High Court order allowing RIL to change its stand midway through the hearing on the PSU's pending specific performance suit.

The NTPC appeal assumes tremendous significance for two reasons - RIL cancelled its gas supply contract by sending a letter to NTPC on June 17, 2005 saying that it was 'unconcluded' when the Ambani family MoU was made public on the morning of June 18, 2005 and even more vitally, the terms and conditions of the RNRL-RIL contract for gas supply were based on the price and tenure of NTPC's contract with RIL signed much earlier. This clearly showed RIL's corporate misconduct because it realised that it would now have to supply gas to two entities almost simultaneously - NTPC and RNRL - at $2.34 per million unit for a period of 17 years. Gredde overcame everything else at this stage and RIL began to paper over the reality of supplying gas to two corporate entities and reneged using the oil ministry and DGH to fight its battles.

However, both RNRL and NTPC dragged RIL to the Bombay High Court resulting in the case falling in the SC's lap after much arguing. Against this background, NTPC's appeal will in the apex court will definitely have some bearing on the RNRL-RIL case as well because in many ways it is all intertwined. NTPC has faulted the July 30 HC order of the Bombay HC saying that it does not recognise the sanctity of the commitment given by RIL which won the tender through a global bidding process quoting the lowest rate - the said $2.34.

Its 76 page appeal obviously written by government law officers slammed RIL for using some pretext or the other. Both the AG and the SG were unanimous that NTPC's rights and interests needed to be protected against RIL. Their observations were hard hitting and have been taken on board the NTPC appeal.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

oil ministry backs down on family mou

In damage limitation exercises, newly appointed RIL ED PMS Prasad may be flying journalists to the KG Basin to give them an update on the gas opera, but with the government amending its Special Leave Petition, it is now crystal clear that the case to be heard before the Supreme Court will focus on the same two issues - interpretation on the price of gas and the gas utilisation policy, as was the case before the Bombay High Court earlier. All manner of tweaking that the oil ministry tried to give the case has been summarily dropped due to the incessant media pressure from RNRL.

The Bombay High Court had asked RIL to supply 28 million units per day at $2.34 for 17 years, against which RIL appealed to the apex court. Now the key here is that the RNRL-RIL contract was signed before the gas utilisation policy which the oil ministry in its fresh appeal to the SC wants set aside. Even more categorically the decks have been cleared for the protection of NTPC's interests, something that RNRL and other group shareholders were asking for through a media blitz which culminated in a a series of adevrtisements in all small and big newspapers. The EGoM of September 12, 2007 had approved the gas price of $4.2 per million unit at a crude price greater or equal to $60 per barrel.

The entire handling of this gas row by the oil ministry has deeply embarrassed the government. Now that a new EGoM is being constituted, it would be right for Murli Deora to distance himself from this unseemly row and allow the government to direct the oil ministry to simply allocate the requisite amount of gas to NTPC on a nomination basis so that Kawas and Gandhar can be kick started. This will render the NTPC-RIL case infructuous and resolve one part of this quadrangular fight.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

deora dares, plan panel strikes down

With Murli Deora asking for a reconstitution of the EGoM to allocate gas from the KG Basin fields beyond 40 million units, the Planning Commission instead wants the oil ministry to adopt the recommedndations laid out in the Integrated Energy Policy on the pricing of gas. Deora believes that there is a need to revive the mechanism so that gas can be allocated beyond the 40 million levels to new customers, but Montek Singh headed Plan Panel wants its recommendations to be reflected in the note that the oil ministry is preparing for the Cabinet on the contentious issue of gas pricing.

The Integrated Energy Policy contends that as the shortage of natural gas was likely to continue, its price, allocation should be independently regulated on a cost plus basis including reasonable returns. Deora who is known to do abrupt about turns on policy is now wondering what to do next. Though he met principal secretary to PM T K A Nair over the weekend to present his case for a new EGoM on the lines of the previous one headed by Pranab Mukherjee, it remains to be seen which path he will follow now.

Will his Cabinet note mirror realities or will they be full of flights of fancy in order to show his unstinted support to RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani? Or will he listen to the Plan Panel and take their recommendations on board. All this needs to be done quickly because with the Supreme Court deciding to hear the Ambani gas opera from October 20, Deora will find that time is not on his side. After all he will also have a role to play in the forthcoming Maharashtra elections. In what capacity, no one knows for sure?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

cag up in arms over ril reluctance

Even as RIL mounts its counter offensive against RNRL with a series of letters to the oil ministry debunking ADAG claims on hoarding of KG Basing gas, it needs to look at itself in the mirror and check whether is weel vis a vis lies and more lies. CAG has rejected the audit meet records, saying that the oil ministry is circulating details sans its views on expenses by RIL. After DGH V K Sibal put out a release on his website on August 5 saying that CAG had completed its audit of RIL's Andhra offshore field costs which proved to be false, the battle has escalated. The very next day CAG denied this saying that it had problems accessing papers of private firms. This led to red faces both in DGH and oil ministry. One doubts whether Mukesh Ambani is ever red faced or embarrassed about anything.

Now CAG has accused the oil ministry of circulating records of two crucial meetings without its concurrence or confirmation on the issue of auditing the expenses incurred by private companies, in developing oil and gas fields. CAG's principal director of audit has slammed the records sent on August 24, telling the ministry that they do not fully reflect the discussions that took place or take into account the government's auditors prerogative and views.

Expressing reservations over the record on RIL's field, the CAG latter said, "The understanding of our audit team was that during the meeting, the contractor's representative expressed considerable reluctance to provide access to records for the previous years till 2006-07 and no dates for the entry conference were discussed or decided during the meeting... such a conference will have full purpose only when we have documented clarity about our exact audit access. So far we have not received any such written confirmation of such access."

Despite RIL's protests over everything being above board as far as KG D6 fields capital expenditure development plans not being gold plated, it is clear that it continues to obstruct and obfuscate CAG's attempts to get to the bottom of the case. Will truth reveal itself?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sc hearing deferred

Just when everyone thought that the Ambani gas opera will provide more girst for their mills, the Supreme Court has deferred the hearing of the controversial case to October 20. On Friday, a bench headed by chief justic K G Balakrishnan decided to pose the matter for October after RIL counsel suggested the matter be heard on October 20. With RNRL counsel Mukul Rohatgi agreeing, the matter has been deferred.

Till yesterday, the war of missives continued unabated with both RIL and RNRL dashing off letters. With advertisements having stopped, RNRL asked the oil ministry why it was not protecting NTPC's claims, given that it was a government company and as such should have been covered under 'national interest'? This is the plea that the oil ministry has strangely taken in the RIL-RNRL case, but has taken a subjective view in the NTPC case where its claim of 12 million units per day for 17 years and $2.34 has not been taken seriously by the government.

In any case, the hearing could not have taken place on September 1, the originally designated date as the CJI is busy with a five member Constitutional Bench till the first week of the month. Expect more fireworks in media in the meantime, for the battle between the fraternal brothers will only escalate now.

super charged NTPC

Just when poor NTPC claims in the gas opera were being cast aside due to the oil ministry's ambivalent attitude towards the power ministry, the governemnt law officers were given a wake up call by an emboldened NTPC CMD R S Sharma. Threatening to walk out of a high profile briefing session, Sharma made it amply clear to one and all in the room on the company's interlocutory petition to be filed in the SC.

Sharma was furious with the draft petition, saying that it did not safeguard NTPC's concerns on the issue of protecting future gas supplies from RIL. Times of India has reported that Sharma put his foot down on the sensitive issue. NTPC will not be party or respondent, but will certainly have a significant say in the matter before the SC. With the Chief Justice busy with a Constitutional Bench hearing, this matter will come up before a three division bench on September 4 or 5 now. Thereafter a short duration hearing will take place.

NTPC's claims on 12 million unitsper day for 17 years at $2.34 are critical to RNRL's position in this entire gas opera. RIL had won a global tender floated by NTPC in 2003 at $2.34. Since then Mukesh Ambani and RIL got greedy and changed his mind hiding behind the frockcoat of oil minister Murli Deora. As part of the RIL scheme of demerger, RIL was to supply gas at a similar price to RNRL for a similar period of 17 years. Only the quantity of gas was 28 million units per day. Surprising that it has taken NTPC six years to really take a stand in this matter, though a case is pending in the Bombay High Court against RIL.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

litigation and more litigation

While RNRL, RIL, NTPC and the Government read oil ministry wear tight cumerbunds as they gird their loins to go into battle before the Supreme Court next week, as an aside a different kind of litigation proceedings have begun. Media which has benefited most because of the gas opera with juicy tidbits being leaked by both sections and of course a handsomne front page campaign by RNRL has now been slapped with defamatory notices for carrying those advertisements by Reliance Industries.

All 33 big, small and regional newspapers have reportedly received defamatory legal notices from India's biggest corporation. Even more interestingly one of the top editors who writes a Sunday column in a national daily has also been slapped with a similar notice for his fictional writing of facts by RNRL. Though media was having the last laugh till now enjoying both the news and revenues from the two sides, they are a trifle more circumspect now after RIL's missile. At the same time it has angered media bosses for they reckon a defamatory notice from RIL amounts to some sort of media censorship.

Expect more legal notices in the next few days and perhaps the odd advertisement also. The gas opera will now go into overdrive from next week, but expect nuggets, sorry skeletons to fall out of cupboards before that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

reality check for oil ministry

Instead of tuning up the volume, suddenly the oil ministry has chosen to tune it down considerably. Belligerence has been cast aside by the oil ministry in the face of the sustained campaign by RNRL to nail the truth. With lies, more lies and damned statistics being the operational plank for RIL supported by the oil ministry in the shameless campaign to obfuscate the real issues relating to the NTPC and RNRL gas supply deals, it has decided that objectivity is the only way forward in the SC. A clarifactory affidavit is being filed which will focus on the core issue of the production sharing contract between itself and RIL and the pricing of the gas.

All bellicose statements like 'MoU and family agreement between RIL and RNRL is null and void in the face of national interest involved in distribution of natural gas' have been expunged. All inflamatory statements like 'RIL and RNRL have appropriated, through the MoU, in a surreptitious and unauthorised manner, the entire gas treating the same as their personal and family property' have also been struck out. Even more interestingly, when it filed its appeal on July 18 in unseemly haste, it forgot to seek the SC's leave to file special leave petition. Ahem.

But even more shockingly, NTPC says RIL bid mum on government approvals, despite bidder having signed contract with centre much earlier in 2000. This has added a new dimension to the gas opera.It has written to the government saying, "From the information available with us, it is learnt that the PSC was signed by RIL with the government in 2000. While submitting its bid in 2003, they were fully aware of the provisions of the PSC. RIL in its bid never stated that the contract shall require the government's approval." NTPC CMD R S Sharma has written this to power secretary H SD Brahma queering the pitch for Mukesh and Murli completely just days before the apex court sits to hear the controversial matter.

NTPC SLP could be differentiator

In a dramatic decision, public sector power utility NTPC has decided to file a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court within the next few days. With power secretary H S Brahma confirming this development, NTPC despite the best efforts of the oil ministry to impede its progress in the matter is going ahead to secure its rights. Better sense has prevailed within the power as it goes out to protect its rights of procuring 12 million units of gas per day for a period of 17 years from RIL at the contracted price of $2.34 per million unit.

NTPC has been fighting a case in the Bombay High Court to get gas from RIL at the contracted price of $2.34, but RIL has reneged on this saying that NTPC doesn't have a concluded contract. This is an important landmark in the ongoing gas row because this will establish the floor price for gas at $2.34. The NTPC price became the basis of RIL-RNRL gas pricing for a similar period of 17 years. The oil ministry tried its level best to dissuade NTPC from doing the same, suggesting that the company wait for the outcome of its case against RIL pending in the Bombay High Court. Once the NTPC SLP is filed, it will become a unique quadrangular case with RNRL, oil ministry, NTPC and RIL in the apex court. RIL filed a SLP against RNRL verdict in Bombay High Court, oil ministry impleaded itself with another SLP and NTPC will now protect its interests with yet another SLP this time against RIL.

Fortunately the power ministry demanded that the oil ministry delete all statements that are injurious to NTPC's interest from its counter affidavit and SLP, filed in the SC cross appeals. The power ministry had identified 22 such paragraphs that were construed to be harmful to NTPC's interest. Finally victory for justice seekers and not those out to subvert the system.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

the channel of babble

On Friday, the oil ministry hit back at the Anil Ambani advertising campaign choosing to describe it as 'unfortunate... propaganda.' It was obviously just as important as the advertising campaign which had been unleashed for over five days, but it was not the government closing ranks against the interloper, but only the section that was targeted - the oil ministry which was reacting to the damaging copy in the adverts. But the channel of babble - CNBC TV 18 - decided to up the ante on this oil ministry rebuttal. Calling it a government rebuttal, it went over the top using words which did not do justice to the channel's standing and credibility. It was high pitched with one particular reporter - Siddharth Zarabi - unleasing his tongue to create a fearsome spectre of the government where none existed.

It was vital to the oil ministry's Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court to react to the campaign which has demolished its case and mobilised public opinion. The oil ministry perforce had to react in some form or the other as it has been shown in extremely poor light these last few days. Its tenuous case in the apex court would have been irretrievably eroded. But the channel of babble which has been very balanced in this dispute till now simply lost it in that space of half and hour. The reporter Zarabi just lost his head and turned the oil ministry release into some sort of draconian crackdown on ADAG talking nonsense and drivel without comprehending facts as they were being played out.

It was left to the more balanced Shereen Bhan to venture into the sandpit to soothe and calm the debate and add a balanced twist to it. Otherwise reporters like Zarabi who seem to have no understanding of important matters like the gas row would have been allowed to do a naked jig on live television. This distinction between what the oil ministry refuting ADAG charges against it and the government as a whole hitting back at ADAG needs to be made clear for it provides a perspective on how acutely the faultlines are drawn even inside the government on this issue.

The next morning's newspapers were clear in their understanding - they articulated that the oil ministry statement said, "the government will protect the interest of its generation utility NTPC by all means." Which means that ADAG and its 8 million shareholders had managed to convince the oil ministry of its duty to prtest and serve the interests of government owned PSU NTPC in the gas supply case. A very clear message which Mr Zarabi failed to read. Moreover, Zarabi and the channel of babble for that half and hour tried to convince viewers that the government read oil ministry was enforcing the $4.20 price for the supply of gas. Nowehere was that said in the statement, all it said was that the EGom had set a $4.20 price. What was conveniently forgotten was the Bombay High Court judgment of June 15 which fixes price and tenure for RNRL at $2.34 and 17 years.

CNBC TV 18 which is widely respected amongst the corporate and market watching community would do well to ensure that its reporters are literate enough to understand the nuances of a simple release from the oil ministry.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I, me, mine a mindless pursuit

The Times of India in a front page story has said that the PM is keen that a middle ground is found by the two warring Ambani brothers in the ugly gas row. Is it possible that the two brothers can kiss and make up at this late stage of the no holds barred fight? Will the PM's words cap the flare up? A flare up which has seen an unprecedented vitriolic attack on the oil ministry and a high decibel advertising campaign in all small and large dailies in the country. The only positive after the government issued a statement is that the advertising did not appear on Saturday morning, but the breather could well be due to the onset of the weekend.

The PM's soothing words to the brothers may well see some sort of conciliation between the two camps, but the question is who will play interlocutor. Will matriach Kokilaben Ambani play mediator again? Will the battle be resolved within the confines of Seawind, the family residence? Interestingly, the non compete agreement between the two brothers ends in June 2010. Can the two brothers sit down and resolve all ending issues? The PM's take is that both are two big to fail and fall now. The two groups are the biggest in Indian business. Against this backdrop, Anil Ambani has written a very illuminating piece in Speaking Tree in the Times of India where he highlights the Trust factor, saying that it is everything and that it needs to be nurtured.

Suggesting that his father Dhirubhai built his business on the foundation of trust by naming his company Reliance, Anil believes that the message that was being sent out to one and all in public domain was that - you can rely on me. Increasingly since his death, Reliance is something that cannot be trusted is the allusion that Anil gives through his article. That Reliance Industries under his brother has turned into a 'I, me and mine' type of corporation and institution only highlights the erosion of Dhirubhai's value systems and a major trust deficit. Anil Ambani writes, "How easy it is to let the obsession with self - I, me, mine - vitiate even the purest, most selfless of relationships - the bond between a child and his mother.' Clearly hinting at the trust deficit again between Mukesh Ambani and the mother Kokilaben by not honouring the tenets of the family settlement initiated by the matriach.

Does the fine print of this piece by Anil Ambani in ToI's Speaking Tree make you believe that there can be any sort of rapprochement or mediation. Doesn't seem so. Mukesh Ambani only believes in might is right to get his own way. The last few lines of the article which reflect the inner pain go like this - "Can one break a word spoken solemnly in her presence (mother)? And if one does - in the mindless pursuit of power, ego or material riches - what has one gained, and more importantly, what has one lost?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

oil conundrum

The malaise in India's oil and gas sector goes much deeper than just the recent gas opera featuring RNRL, RIL and NTPC where Mukesh Ambani aided and abetted by the oil ministry is trying to ensure that might is right in order to prevent execution of concluded contracts on gas supply. As much as 87 per cent of India's oil and gas acreage is with a duopoly - ONGC and RIL. One understands ONGC for there is a legacy system involved. ONGC being India's premier exploration company till RIL decided to enter this sector and tried to turn it in to a monopoly from what was till recently a duopoly.

What is not so well known is that India's famous New Exploration Licensing Policy has been an abject failure over the last three years. None of the global big five - Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Statoil and Conoco Phillips - have ever participated in these bids. Instead ONGC holds 57 per cent of all acreage, RIL holds 30 per cent and others consisting of more than 50 bit players have just 13 per cent of the NELP acreage.

Failure or success is for one and all to judge. The idea of converting India's upstream sector into a multiplayer competitive market has failed miserably. This despite tens and thousands of dollars being spent by the oil ministry and DGH to conduct road shows in key energy capitals across the world - Moscow, London, Houston etc. Sadly nobody is willing to bite. So claims by Cairn and RIL of mega discoveries in both oil and gas have not impressed the big boys. So, where is the question of the gas row affecting sentiment and global investment flows into India's energy sector. This is another one those myths perpetrated by the oil ministry/DGH to keep the rest of the government happy.

During the seventh round of NELP, no bids were received for 12 (over 20 per cent) out of 57 blocks; only a single bidder participated for 19 (over 30 per cent) out of 57 blocks and production sharing contracts are yet to be signed for 16 (over 25 per cent) blocks. This is a serious reality check for the government to examine the mismanagment of the oil and gas sector in the country.

A case of fictionalising fact Mr Deora and Mr Sibal. Even as you tom tom successes notched by the oil and gas sector in India. Nobody other than RIL wants to touch India with a bargepole. And you want to keep it that way.

RIL's mounting legal fees

The legal cost of RIL's battles are now turning into a sizeable number. Amounting to the size of a small company, even. Court battles are the norm at RIL these days - it is embroiled in a mega battle with RNRL in the Supreme Court, another is pending in the Bombay High Court with NTPC - and all this is taking its toll. While RNRL, the fuel linkage firm created by RIL to handle the gas supply to the Dadri plant in UP has seen its legal and professional fess jump from Rs 3.12 crore in 2006-07 to Rs 15.27 crore in 2007-08, it is RIL's numbers that are shocking.

Professional including legal fees had spiked from Rs 259.33 crore in 2005-06 to an astounding Rs 675.84 crore in 2007-08. Litigation doesn't come cheap and as Ram jethmalani remarked the other day on a TV channel, the only people who profit are lawyers. Which means that Harish Salve and company are making mega bucks thanks to the litigation against RNRL. No wonder Salve is seen sitting smugly in his new Bentley, driving around Delhi. Professional fees now amounts to 3.5 percent of its total net profit for 2007-08.

Spare a thought for shareholders who have been clamouring for a bonus for the last so many years.

Monday, August 17, 2009

road show

This is a road show with a difference. Anil Ambani has obviously done many road shows in his career to raise money for RIL and over the last few years for his own group companies, but his present road show is novel and thought provoking. By inserting adverts in all national dailies - small and big - two days running, he has evoked a strong public response to his fight for justice. By asking people to respond by giving an e mail id and sms number, he has done his homework extremely well. The public is responding to his charges, much like his senior counsel Ram Jethmalani's crusade against Rajiv Gandhi by asking 10 questions daily in the Indian Express 20 years ago.

It is a deliberately thought out ploy to involve not just his Group's 8 million shareholders, but also to provoke a wider public debate on RIL's shenanigans and its unholy nexus with RIL. The nexus is clearly to stymie NTPC and RNRL from getting gas from the KG Basin fields despite iron clad contracts having been signed.

On Tuesday, Anil Ambani through his advertisement asked - At the stroke of a pen, and in a matter of days, the petroleum ministry has approved a shockingly disproportionate 400 percent hike in the project cost of RIL's KG D6 gas fields from Rs 12,000 crore to Rs 45,000 crore. This could result in a loss of up to Rs 30,000 crore to the Government of India, as per its agreement with RIL. The retail power tariffs may also go up by 50 % or more than Re 1 per unit. Is this in public or national interest?

National or public interest, that is the clarion call given by RADAG. In its quest for justice, prepare yourself for many more such questions in the coming days. What is perhaps most interesting here is that Anil Ambani is not targeting the government, but consciously only a section of it - the petroleum ministry which has joined hands with elder brother Mukesh Ambani to pull off a grand heist amounting to Rs 30,000 crore. Meanwhile Anil Ambani's mother Kokilaben travels with him from one pilgrimage spot to another reposing her faith in the younger son in this battle against injustice.

public opinion

With RNRL releasing advertisements in all small and big newspapers on Monday morning, a new dimension has been added to the gas opera. Monday reportedly saw the first of many such advertisements as RADAG has decided to protect the interests of its 8 million strong shareholder family. The oil ministry is clearly in the line of fire.

The mobilising of public opinion in the process is significant because ADAG is obviously involving the people of India in this battle over gas, a national resource. It is the responses from common folk which are astounding. They are reportedly spewing invective at 'gaswale' uncle Murli Deora and elder brother Mukesh Ambani for appropriating a national resource. Meanwhile, poor NTPC and RNRL with concluded contracts in the bag wait for both RIL and MoPNG to honour their commitments.

By taking the battle to the streets, ADAG has decided that the time has come to ensure that justice delayed is not denied. It is now up to the apex court to give a just and equitable decision so that NTPC and RNRL can soldier on, despite the dilatory tactics of Mukesh Ambani and Murli Deora. With NTPC all set to jump into the SC with its own SLP after the SG and AG rapped it for being overly defensive and not seeking to enforce their contract with RIL. Expect more drama in the coming days.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

nyay aur anyay

Nyay aur anyay ki ladai mein, senior counsel Ram Jethmalani chose Anil Ambani over Mukesh Ambani. Why? Ram Jathmalani was on TV the other day and he gave a background to his association with Dhirubhai Ambani and the family. As he said, "I am sad that two sons of a dear friend of mine are squabbling. I am sad at the venom that they are displaying for one another. I knew both the brothers, just as I knew their father. At the condolence meeting, I had told the two brothers to embrace and stay together as one powerful combine. I am saddened that Mukesh Ambani disobeyed me and that is why I am appearing for Anil Ambani in this case."

Despite this Jethmalani, one of the most respected counsels in the country is still speaking the language of settlement. Why? Jethmalani believes that an unwritten rule of the Bar is to avoid litigation at all costs. Don't foment litigation, is what Jethmalani says. Only lawyers make money that way, he continues. Listen to your mother, argues the practical senior counsel. Jethmalani feels all this could have been avoided if the lawyers had paid heed to the Bar's unwritten code and Mukesh Ambani had allowed his mother to intervene and resolve the matter amicably.

Goes to show how even the law of the land was not required to settle this contentious issue. Only if the two brothers had resolved the matter and only if Mukesh Ambani was willing to honour his side of the commitments. First to NTPC and then to RNRL. But he chose to reneg because he didn't want to part with the gas that the unified Reliance Industries had discovered.

busy, busy, busy

All lines on this route are busy. Try calling up the Attorney General Ghoolam Vahanvati these days and you will find that his line is busy. There is a veritable call deluge on his phone. From the BCCI satraps to PSU power major NTPC to the government, everyonbe seems to be calling him for help. His sage counsel is required for vexed issues as diverse from the privacy and public liberty of our cricketers to NTPC's rights in the contentious gas row with RIL.

And the AG is answering all calls. After the Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam slammed RIL for not honouring its 'concluded contract' for the expansion programme for NTPC's Kawas and Gandhar plants, it is now the AG's turn to shakedown RIL for its inability to fulfil tender commitments. Both the government law officers are in no mood to listen to any 'bakwas.' They want justice delayed, but not denied to be the maxim.

The AG has now castigated NTPC arguing that it should appeal to the SC against RIL, "without any loss of time." He has roundly criticised RIL saying, "It is indeed strange that RIL should place this burden (of inability to fulfil tender commitments) on the Union of India as having taken away the foundational basis of a very carefully structured bid which must have been undertaken with the concurrence of the administrative ministry."

Mukesh Ambani has very smartly used the oil ministry and the DGH to fight his battles. He has kept his head low in the trenches till now, but with the noise getting louder and louder by the day, it will that much more difficult to hide behind the coat tails of these worthies anymore. It is now or never as we go into the final round of this long drawn out gas opera. Just 15 days short of the hearing in the SC, the government's law officers have indeed complicated things for Mukeshbahi and RIL. NTPC's contract is for 12 million units of gas per day for 17 years and RIL has reneged on it. NTPC's half hearted attempts at reclaiming this gas are pending in the Bombay High Court and this is what the SG and AG are not roundly angry about. NTPC under the aegis of the powerless power ministry should have pursued it more aggressively, they contend.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ntpc may finally jump into the gas opera

PSU power major NTPC is likely to jump into the gas pool. The government's SG has advised NTPC to protect its rights by intervening in the pending RIL-RNRL dispute in the apex court. The SG believes that RIL should not be allowed to wriggle out of its written commitment and agreement between the parties to supply gas to Kawas and Gandhar plants of its share of gas at an identical rate of $2.34 per million unit.

This opinion has sent shockwaves in the RIL camp which was forced to file a caveat in the SC. NTPC floated a global tender for gas supply which was won by RIL at a competitive price of $2.34. This pricing became the basis of RIL's gas supply to the Dadri gas fired plant for which a fuel linkage company called RNRL was established. But on June 17, 2005, a day prior to the family MoU between the two Ambani brothers, RIL summarily pulled out of the gas supply agreement with NTPC citing unconcluded contract, triggering off a massive legal dispute between RIL and RNRL on one side and RIL and NTPC on the other. SG's views if accepted will see NTPC intervention in the pending cross appeals.

Strangely the power ministry under whose aegis NTPC comes has kept silent on this controversial issue. NTPC contract with RIL gives it 12 million units of gas per day at $2.34 for a period of 17 years. RNRL's subsequent contract gives its 28 million units at the same price for the same tenure. But RIL refuses to give it to either party and wants to appropriate it for itself. Letting the oil ministry and DGH to fight its battles and hiding behind the national resource plea.

Sadly it doesn't wash in a court of law.

confusion leads to carbohydrates

These days a slightly chastened oil minister Murli Deora is busy putting his foot in to his mouth. The other day, while introducing some foreign delegates to the Director General of Hydrocarbons V K Sibal, Deora said meet V K Sibal - our director general for carbohydrates. Look like the minister needs a dose of carbs very desperately to restore his memory loss. The gaswale uncle is being pilloried for his partisan role in the gas opera. Recently in a fit of pique when journos were addressing him as Murli Kaka, he shouted - don't call me that, all my nephews are hassling me these days. I guess it doen't pay to support one nephew against the other, best to be at arm's length distance from both.

Looks like the affable Murli has bitten more than he can chew this time round.

curiouser and curiouser

The alleged CAG audit of RIL's gas fields in the KG Basin is getting curiouser and curiouser with the passing of each day. Directorate General of Hydrocarbons claimed on his website just last week that CAG had completed its audit of RIL's development plan. That turned out to be yet another lie in the long list of lies. This was denied outright by CAG officials who said that they were facing difficulty because they did not have access to RIL's books. Now Times of India has reported that CAG is having problems accessing other private operators' books as well. CAG has been unable to get access to BG and Cairn's books as well. With private operators not complying with the oil ministry, isn't it amazing that the DGH carries on regardless with his pack of lies.

The way the system works is that the contractor is allowed to recover all capex and opex from the fields and only then starts paying the government profit petroleum or profit gas. By inflating the capex development plan to Rs 45,000 crore, RIL is ensuring a massive loss to the government exchequer. The oil ministry has now woken up late in the day to ask operators to provide access to their accounts. A meeting has been convened on Auguyst 17 to discuss the same, according to ToI. Astounding is the DGH's blatant disinformation campaign in this regard. ToI also claims that the PSC gives the government every right to ask for any documentation or information pertaining to it, but yet the oil ministry and DGH are busy pulling the wool over everyone's eyes.

National resource is all very well, but the DGH is allowing its naked hijack in broad daylight, even as public interest falls by the wayside. RIL and its conniving partner DGH and oil ministry continue to get away scot free.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

cat that got the cream

Government's consistent stand in parliament is that it doesn't have any role to play in fixing gas pricing, its role is limited to ensuring that it gets its shares of profit from oil and gas as part of the production sharing contract.

According to the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, RIL's cost of producing gas is $1.28 per million unit. Oil ministry and RIL have connived to fix the gas at $4.20, while the NTPC and RNRL pricing was fixed at $2.34. This is the simple part. Now we come to the more complicated part. RIL has been regularly hiking its capex development plan with the DGH. Right now the figure is Rs 45,000 crore. There is a reason behind this.

Under the PSC, the contractor RIL first gets to recover all its capex field development and operating costs and only then begins to pay the government. That constitutes profit gas. By bloating the field development cost, RIL is ensuring that the government gets practically nothing, while its pockets the cream.

Ergo, if the capital expenditure plans go up, the government's profits fall. That is why RIL would not like CAG to audit its KG Basin capex plans because then the truth will be uncovered and the gigantic fraud perpetrated on the Indian people will come to light. Incidentally the four member 'management committee' which approved the capex plan consists of two RIL personnel and two oil ministry personnel. Cosy set up, no?

All this under the watchful gaze of the people of India. Making it a Rs 45,000 crore scam. The largest ever.

ab CAG ki bari

A harassed Comptroller and Auditor General has finally written to the oil ministry asking for access to RIL's books in order to audit the government's gas contract with Mukesh Ambani owned company. For as long as two years, the audit body has been unable to access RIL's books. Shocking, no?

CAG has been waiting to audit RIL's capital expenditure development plan of Rs 45,000 crore for the KG Basin gas fields. This in turn forms a key area of the government's production sharing contract with RIL. CAG wants to examine the field development programme to see how much the government's share of profit gas actually is and whether RIL has inflated the capex plan to obfuscate the issue further.

The oil ministry according to reports will facilitate the meeting between RIL and CAG shortly. Another sad chapter in the holding the nation to ransom story of RIL. Tells you of how RIL disregards autonomous government institutions in its brazen appropriation of national resources.

murli deora's 'patriotism'

Swaminathan Aiyar says that the prevailing gas price in the US is $3.70, much lower than what the government and Mukesh Ambani mandated price of $4.20 is. Strange? Begs the question - who is profiteering? In June 2008, Swami writes in the Times of India that the price of gas in the US was $13. One also needs to add that $4.20 excludes the transportation cost and other levies. Remember that the gas has to be brought onshore first before pipelines take it wherever...

Another top editor writing on the same page in ToI has torn into Murli Deora, sorry gaswale uncle. Quoting from extracts of the infamous Polyester Prince written by Hamish McDonald, M J Akbar has traced the genesis of Deora's relationship with the Dhirubhai Ambani. But he adds, "The past cannot be held against Deora's present." In an age where the price spiral of essential commodities continues unabated, Akbar makes a telling point, "This must be the first government that is determined on raising the price of a national asset that is in the private possession of Mukesh Ambani, rather than bringing it down, or indeed keeping it at a level that a private company offered and accepted as as part of a contractual agreement."

On Friday rising prices, Sharad Pawar claimed were due to the ever increasing cost of energy. Curious. One central minister wants to raise the price of energy - in this case gas - while another says that the price of energy is responsible for the price spike. Government working at odds, no? And whose interests does this gas price rise serve? Obviously Murli Deora's master Mukesh Ambani's. He pockets the money, not the government. The finance and power ministers are keeping quiet. Finance doesn't want to have anything to do with this unsavoury controversy because he wants to remain neutral while Power (under whom NTPC comes) remains powerless in this dispute. Akbar tells it like it is - Patriotism has clearly become the last refuge of Murli Deora.

Even at today's prevalent gas price of $3.70 in the US, Mukesh Ambani and mind you not the government is making a large profit. Fifty cents is the margin even at today's price of gas. Makes one wonder how the government or was it the oil ministry fixed $4.20 as the price of gas. Conventional economic logic be damned. People must pay more for their own national asset because Mukesh Ambani has to profit.

Friday, August 7, 2009

sadness vs pain

Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani is suddenly feeling sad over his younger brother's acerbic pinpoint pincer attacks. Finally the deafening silence has been met with pangs of sadness over the nature of personal attacks launched by Anil Ambani. Rather late in the day to develop bouts of emotion, wouldn't you think? While reacting, he has chosen not to deal with substantive issues raised by the ongoing gas opera. All this while Mukesh Ambani has chosen to hide behind oil minister Murli Deora and hydrocarbons boss VK Sibal. He has let them do the talking. The matter is sub judice, he argues. He is keeping quiet out of respect for the Supreme Court which is adjudicating on the matter. But that doesn't prevent Deora, Sibal and company from launching virulent tirades against NTPC and RNRL. Meanwhile at a function in Mumbai he collected the other half of his family in a show of strength, but failed to respond to the material charges levelled against him and his company.

Subir Raha who knows a thing or two about NELP and production sharing contracts having been chairman of ONGC for many years has lashed out at the oil ministry in a devastating critique in the Economic Times. Raha writes, "The present petroleum minister has held the job for three and a half years; he had the cramp on 'sovereign right on mineral resources' only after the Bombay H.C decided on the RIL-RNRL case. Evidently he is oblivious of the fact that the prime purpose of his ministership is to protect and exercise those rights! Going by media reports, the ministry's and the ministry's case is that to make any offer of sale, the 'contractor' is required under the production sharing contract (PSC) to obtain prior approval of quantity and price from the ministry of petroelum and natural gas. Did the ministry 'approve' RIL's bid before it was submitted to NTPC? The point of dispute in the RIL-NTPC case is whether the global tender was concluded in a contract? Going by the stand now taken by the petroleum minister, RIL's bid was illegal because by all accounts, prior 'approval' of the petroleum ministry was not taken. The illegal tender should have been rejected outright; on the other hand, NELP terms and conditions were publicised in full by GoI MoPNG, and NTPC should have made such prior 'approval' for domestic NELP gas a pre-qualification criterion. Either way, NTPC is at fault. Absurd."

Well said Major Raha. He then goes on to blow away Deora's contention by saying, "NELP and award of each PSC under NELP is approved by the Cabinet; individual ministers cannot make any change in a signed PSC. Even when a minister and a contractor agree on modifications, the Cabinet has to accord formal approval...There is deafening silence from one set of interested parties: the power minister, his ministry and his company?" Amazing isn't it that a former chairman of navratna PSU ONGC has had to take up cudgels on behalf of another navratna PSU - NTPC? Nobody cares about NTPC, a public listed company with the government and foreign and domestic investors as its shareholders. Even as the brothers slug it out, NTPC writhes in pain and the government and parliament is seemingly paralysed by gas. It is another matter that sugar, pulses and vegetable prices are running amok.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

ek aur gaswala

The debut in parliament of another gaswala, this time not an uncle, but a Reliance Industries minion Parimal Nathwani is exteremly important in the context of the ongoing gas opera for it tells us how the sanctity of prliament is being misused and abused to further naked corporate interests. RIL's Gujarat strongman and Narender Modi groupie Nathwani an 'independent' MP in the upper house declared his affiliation for RIL openly.

By openly and aggressively saying that he represents the corporate interests of RIL, he has thrown up questions over the very existence of such individuals in the two houses. CPM MP Brinda Karat saddened with the way things are working out has even compalined to the Rajya Sabha chairperson vice president Hamid Ansari on this nexus and how it impacts the dignity of the house. She has spoken about the conflict of interest extending now to the conflict of dignity of the house. And rightly so. Nathwani's open advocacy makes one wonder where Indian democracy is headed?

ntpc left holding baby and bathwater

Gaswale uncle is going great guns in parliament and he cares two hoots for what the rest of the world thinks. Isn't it amazing a section of the government (oil ministry) is out to undermine and even jeopardise the interests of another (power ministry). In a brazen and blatant manner and the powers that be are not able to do a damn thing. Let us for a moment forget about the Ambani gas opera. Throw it into the nearest the waste paper basket. Let us concentrate on the interests of NTPC, a government owned navratna. Nobody seems to care about the poor PSU's interests in this gas opera. They are the first and rightful claimant of the gas as per an international tender that they put out which was secured by RIL at $2.34. The government seems to be powerless. Yes powerless for poor NTPC is part of the power ministry which has no voice whatsoever in the Union cabinet.

With gaswale uncle now officially refuting NTPC's right to 12 million units per day for 17 years on the floor of the house, it is curtains for NTPC. To use gaswale uncle's exact words - RIL's $2.34 gas price for NTPC is not valid, selling price will be $4.20. So, the RIL spokesperson in the government Murli Deora couldn't care less as he toes the RIL line in parliament. Saying that it is an unconcluded contract, Deora doesn't want to be reminded that RIL sent its letter cancelling the contract on June 17, 2005, a day prior to the Kokilaben Ambani family settlement announcement. That the price is $4.20 is not lost on anyone. 420 is a number that all Indians are familiar with. It is a synonym for duplicity and fraud.

Even more significantly, Deora ruled out nationalising of the KG Basin fields to virtually ensure that Mukesh Ambani's unfettered claims on the 'national resource' remain intact. All this even as MPs across party lines attacked him. But he didn't bat an eyelid. Does this performance in parliament dash the hopes of NTPC once and for all? Or will the Supreme Court prove to be the final arbiter, like it always does? Fundamentally, technically and legally many legal ceagles reckon that the Supreme Court cannot find fault with the Bombay High Court judgment in favour of RNRL. This will be bedrock on which the SC will give its final say. But that certainly leaves powerless NTPC holding the baby and the bathwater.

Deora said, "We have nothing to do with the private dispute of the two industrialists. However, we have everything to do with protecting the interests of the government and public. It is our constitutional and legal obligation to protect the people of India and we will, honestly honour it. We will make all endeavours to protect the government's legal rights to regulate the utilisation of gas and its allocation."

Excuse me, let us the people of India remind Mr Minister that NTPC is a government owned company which is publicly listed and has lakhs of shareholders - government, foreigners and Indian public and to any right minded person epitomises everything that Deora is defending so stoutly in parliament. Only for him 'protecting interests' of Reliance Industriues gains paramountcy over everything else. Meanwhile, NTPC and the power ministry appear helpless in the face of such brazen speak.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

minister has to go

Business Standard in a scathing indictment in its editorial has asked for oil minister Murli Deora's head. It is much like Alice in Wonderland with a clarion call of 'Off with his head' going out loud and clear. When a respected newspaper like BS in its editorial asks for a change, then the widespread indignation that the oil minister's role in the gas row has created is a lesson in itself for the political class.

Titled - 'Move Mr Deora' - the editorial fulminates on the Murli Deora's partisan role in the matter. Saying that the oil minister has offered no clarity whatsoever in his defence in the floor of the house on Monday, BS says that it is well known that Deora is a close friend of Mukesh Ambani, the RIL chairman and as such his role is suspect because there is a conflict of interest. BS writes, "Changing Mr Deora's portfolio is a first step... The Government cannot afford to have its name dragged into a battle between two corporate giants." Saying that the blandness of Deora's responses have bene noteworthy with Deora repeating the old line that public interest being superior to the deal between the two brothers.

In any case, it appears that Deora's fabulous run in Shastri Bhawan might be over for he is becoming increasingly forgetful these days. Mail Today in its whispers column - Raisina Tattle - on Wednesday writes that Deora now forgets where his car is parked to which way his office is located in parliament. A man once known as Kaka to the two Ambani brothers has a new epithet in Delhi. He is now called gaswale Kaka. Reportedly he is the butt of jokes even amongst his colleagues who refer to him by his new moniker gaswale uncle. His barefaced support for Mukesh Ambani has left many in government deeply embarrassed. BS has argued for his departure very coherently and cogently.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

kissa gas ka

Ye na mera hai, na tera, yeh gas toh sarkar hai, so says oil minister Murli Deora. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh tears into him on the floor of the house, stopping short at calling him a thief. Soon after, Anil Ambani launches into Deora saying that the oil minister has adopted a partisan approach on the issue from day one to protect the interests of elder brother Mukesh Ambani. By evening, government counsel in the Supreme Court on the gas row Mohan Parasaran says that government has a case vis a vis sovereign ownership and will intervene suitably in the matter.

Excuse me, isn't this matter sub judice? Isn't this matter being heard in the SC? What is the matter with everybody? Look around you, propriety has been given a decent burial. Former home secretary Anil Baijal is the spokesperson for the private airline operators and he calls for a strike on behalf of them. So, he is opposing the government, isn't he? Former TRAI chairman and disinvestment secretary Pradeep Baijal is operating on behalf of Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata owned PR company, serving their corporate interests by walking the corridors of power and lobbying on their behalf.

Now oil minister is brazenly and blatantly talking the talk and walking the walk for Mukesh Ambani in parliament. What is happening to this country? What has happened to high moral ground, public propriety and other such monikers? I guess it is a sign of the times that sitting politicos and former bureaucrats have decided to cast the cloak of propriety aside and support their respective business interests. But does this reflect well on the government its Prime Minister who is known for his standards of ethicality and integrity? Sad to see public life degenerating into this kind of a joke. And all for 20 pieces of silver. Think of the apex court's position in the gas row. It is unable to enforce a code of conduct among the various players including the minister and the government counsel. What happened to sub judice? Earlier people would think twice before taking and view publicly on the matter.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

offensive tactics

On the eve of the oil minister Murli Deora's defence of his indefensible ministry's position on the Ambani gas row, Anil Ambani unleashed yet another broadside on Sunday. Rising to the defence of the hapless PSU power major NTPC, Ambani Junior said, "NTPC is an innocent victim of Mukesh Ambani's RIL's corporate greed and if the gas is not sold at the 'agreed' price of $2.34, it would result in a loss of Rs 30,000 crore to the company."

In a letter to power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde released to the media on Sunday, Ambani clarified that RNRL was not at all keen to scupper NTPC's interests of garnering 12 million units of gas from RIL for a duration of 17 years. The unfortunate reality is that RIL pulled out of its global tender to provide gas to NTPC's Kawas and Gandhar plants on June 17, 2005, a day prior to the family settlement between the two Ambani brothers which divided the Reliance Industries empire through a transparent process of corporate restructring and a scheme of demerger.

RIL pulled out of its contract saying that it was 'unconcluded' knowing fully well what the contents of the family MoU were. Given that the RIL-NTPC gas deal for 12 million units for 17 years formed the pricing basis of the 28 million units for a similar 17 years to RNRL. By reneging on the NTPC deal priced and discovered through an internationally competitive bid, RIL was paving the path for playing truant with both RNRL and NTPC in the future. It was part of a larger more deliberate plan to retain control over the gas. Both NTPC and RNRL subsequently took RIL to court and RNRL received justice on June 15 this year. Since then RIL has filed a Special Leave Petition in the SC challenging the verdict. The SC will hear the case from September 1.

It is clear as daylight that pandemonium will prevail in parliament when Murli Deora tries to defend his ministry on Monday. Interestingly, no section of the gevernment other than the oil ministry has challenged the Bombay High Court June 15 verdict.

This makes for a very curious state of play. Will the government disown Murli Deora after his utterances on Monday? Will India have a new oil minister as soon as parliament is adjourned? Will a top politician close to the powers that be make a comeback to the Cabinet as the new oil minister? We are in for interesting times.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Anil Ambani in an interview to Times of India says that, "My respected elder brother has made it amply clear, both within the family, and externally, that he does not visualise any further role for my respected elder brother in resolving this matter or any other matter." This confirms the news that has been floating in Mumbai's stock market that Mukesh Ambani is flying on auto pilot. He has chosen to disregard his mother Kokilaben Ambani's counsel in resolving the problems with his brother. Everyone thinks this is a huge folly for the mother is believed to be the only one who can still across the table with the two estranged brothers and get them to engage with one another.

As part of the same interview, Ambani Jr says that, "Facts are being distorted to suggest that the RIL-RNRL agreement amounts to private division of national property...We are not claiming any rights to ownership of the KG Basin gas fields. All our claims are purely from RIL's lawful ownership and entitlement of production."

In the face of the sustained Ambani Jr. fusillade, it is surprising that the elder brother's camp is keeping mum. The silence is deafening. When an inarticulate person like chief lieutenant Manoj Modi is pressed into service to convince media owners and editors on the merits of RIL's position in the gas deal, then one knows that there is a complete bankruptcy of ideas in the Mukesh Ambani camp. Even legal eagle Harish Salve appears to be sheepish and on the back foot after the Anil Ambani attack.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

attack pays dividends

Anil Ambani's blistering attack on oil minister Murli Deora seems to have paid off. The calibrated attack launched during the RNRL AGM followed by interviews to leading media entities and a late night concall seem to be working as a pressure tactic. On Thursday, the oil ministry reportedly is planning to withdraw its Special Leave Petition from the Supreme Court. A SLP as corporate lawyer H P Ranina explained is only field if there is patent error in a judgment given by a lower court, in this case the Bombay High Court's verdict in favour of RNRL on June 15.

By withdrawing the SLP, the oil ministry seems to have decided that discretion is the better part of valour to use an age old proverb. With the oil ministry realising that Ambani Jr's attack has convinced everyone about the veracity of the 'commercial dispute', it is better to withdraw and reframe the SLP. The oil ministry's claim that it was a private dispute and not a commercial one has since been flushed down the toilet. The question is - will the oil ministry amend the SLP and what will its new thrust be on?

Round One seems to have gone to Anil Ambani. With the Supreme Court deciding to hear the matter on September 1, expect much drama in print and television on the subject. For no one remembers such an all out attack by an industrialist against a sitting union minister, and that too by name. Industrialists and businessmen have always kowtowed to the whims and fancies of ministers as they need leverage. This brazen attack will certainly result in something. Next stop is Murli Deora's statement on the matter in parliament on Monday. Watch the Samajwadi members during the statement. Expect more action.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

empire strikes back

By using the RNRL AGM as a platform to put all the relevant facts about the gas row with RIL in public domain, younger bro Anil Ambani seems to be upping the ante. As this morning's TOI and ET both suggest, it is difficult to remember a leading industrialist taking on a union minister in a such a sharply worded manner. First it was his legal counsel Ram Jethmalani who said that the oil ministry is in elder bro Mukesh Ambani's 'pocket' and now Ambani Jr has challenged the oil ministry to take back the oil and gas fields from RIL.

It also needs to be mentioned as the leading papers have stated that Ambani Jr has cleverly made a clear distinction between the government and the errant oil ministry. This obviously stems from a tactical ploy to isolate oil minister Murli Deora in the ruling party. It is clear that Ambani Jr has no bone to pick with the government, but is targeting his ire at his uncle - Murli Kaka. An uncle who in turn is making a distinction between his two nephews Mukesh and Anil. It is well known that Murli Deora was a close confidant of Dhirubhai, but ever since he was elevated to a Cabinet minister's rank and that too in the sensitive oil and gas ministry, he has showered his older nephew with largesse.

Sometime in 2006, oil minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was knocked out in palace coup and Deora with no experience in government was installed in his place. This is what Ambani Jr highlighted at the AGM, detailing a chronology of events which led to the oil ministry and the government in turn becoming a party to what till then was merely a commercial dispute. At the same time, Ambani Jr highlighted how the same government and the power ministry remain unconcerned about NTPC's right over KG Basin gas. NTPC and RIL have what RIL describes as an 'unconcluded' contract and the case is pending in the Bombay High Court.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Right and wrong

Who is right and who is wrong in the Ambani gas row? Delhi's political class is abuzz with who is getting the right and wrong end of the stick. The joke doing the rounds on Monday night was that while KG gas belongs to India and not Ambani brothers, which is what oil minister Murli Deora said on NDTV Profit, Murli Kaka himself certainly belongs to Mukesh Ambani, as articulated by RNRL lawyer Ram Jethmalani on a rival business channel.

Deora more loyal than the king himself continues to make an ass of himself by uttering inanities which only confound one and all. The political class is not surprised that Deora is batting aggressively for Mukeshbhai, but is wondering aloud as to why the oil ministry has changed its tune so suddenly and abruptly. After proclaiming to one and all that the gas row was a private dispute and that it had no role in fixing the price of gas, including making this submission in parliament on multiple ocassions; the government read oil ministry has gone ahead and impleaded itself in the apex court. While this doesn't surprise anyone, what confounds all and sundry is that the oil ministry has become so bold and brazen.

Reuters in its morning report stated that on Monday the Supreme Court cleared the way for the government to be a party in the court battle. Which means that it is mission accomplished for Deora. But as RNRL lawyer said, "The government's role in this matter is not conducive to public interest." Oil secretary R S Pandey told ET Now that the government has gone to court saying that this MoU which appropriates this gas as personal, private property, is not correct. The oil ministry is in the process subverting its own case and interest as PSU power major NTPC is fighting a case against RIL over gas. RIL has debunked the claim and contract for gas as 'not concluded.' This contract/gas supply aggreement was signed at $2.34 per mmbtu and became the pricing basis of a subsequent RNRL gas supply agreement with RIL. This gas supply for the Dadri plant was ratified by the RIL board of directors. Neither the power ministry, nor the oil ministry seem to be bothered about the state of that legal case. Cut your nose to spite your face, is the morale of this story.

When Deora says - I am disgusted with the fight between Ambanis - is he referring to both the brothers or merely the younger brother. The gas doesn't belong to them, he shouts. But then why does he continue protecting the interests of the elder brother Mukesh.