Sunday, July 19, 2009

Unscrupulous fixers

Justice delayed and perhaps even denied. That is the story of the long running Ambani gas row till date as Mukesh Ambani and his pliant petroleum ministry tries to thwart Anil Ambani's Reliance Natural Resources from getting the gas due to it. Delhi's underbelly replete with fixers and powerbrokers are haring around town to ensure that RNRL does not get the gas. While Mukesh Ambani has now befriended erstwhile arch rival Ratan Tata and even shares a public relations agency in the form of Pradip Baijal fronted but Nira Radia owned Neucom Consulting, a wide array of fixers are on the job trying to fix the Supreme Court verdict. With the Indian judiciary proving time and again that it is above all pressures, delivering justice effectively, it is getting that much more difficult for Mukesh Ambani, Nira Radia and the likes of Baijal to get what they want. Baijal is moving from one television studio to another spewing catchphrases like national resource and government property, mobilising public opinion against RNRL.

Nira Radia's Vaishnavi Communications has been engaged by the House of Tatas for almost a decade now and was spawned the negative publicity surrounding the Tata Finance fraud. Lately, with Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata turning friends from foes, Vaishnavi and Radia floated a new company Neucom Consulting which is now handling Mukesh's PR. Former TRAI chairman and disinvestment secretary Pradip Baijal is Neucom's man in the corridors of power in the capital lobbying in DoT, power and petroleum ministries. This suits Tata and Radia for they are rivaling Anil Ambani's group companies in the telecom and power sectors. Baijal recently wrote an article in Business Standard slamming Anil Ambani's RNRL on the gas issue. A day or two later, he found himself ousted (had to resign) from the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board for conflict of interest, given that he is doing public relations for Neucom/Reliance Industries in the same space.Baijal who was chairman of the pipeline advsiory committee was to advise PNGRB on laying cross country pipelines and city gas distribution projects. Incidentally, Mukesh Ambani's RIL is in both spaces. The irony is that Hasmukh Shah has replaced Baijal. Shah is a former chairman of IPCL, a company acquired by RIL during the NDA's disinvestment through the strategic route programme. While Baijal claims that he quit in June, the news was outed by Press Trust of India only after the damaging BS article.Coincidence? Baijal served as telecom regulator and had a longish stint in the power ministry earlier and is widely believed to be networking with key bureaucrats on the gas issue.

Meanwhile, Government agencies are alive to the situation and at the behest of the Prime Minister's Office have put many dubious individuals on the watch list. All these people are proclaiming to the world that they can influence the judgement. Under surveillance are Nitin Jain (who was once jailed for being Chota Shakeel's associate), Parasmal Lodha (formerly of Peerless fame) and real estate cum building contractor Naresh Chopra. These fixers are tearing around Delhi talking to various people involved in the high profile case.

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