Gas pricing case: ACB does not have power to probe, Delhi HC told
New Delhi: The power of Delhi government's Anti Corruption Branch (ACB) to probe graft allegations against former UPA ministers and others in relation to alleged irregularities in raising price of gas from RIL's KG6 basin has been taken away by a recent notification of the Centre, the Delhi High Court was Tuesday told.
"There is a July 23 notification as per which ACB will not have powers to probe (the matter). The notification takes away the jurisdiction of ACB to investigate central government employees in corruption cases. It rather confines (ACB) to employees of Delhi government only," senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Delhi government and ACB, told the court.
ACB, which has now sought time to file its fresh reply as well as to place the notification on record, had recently asserted that it was well within its right to lodge the FIR against Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and others, including then Oil Minister M Veerappa Moily, for alleged irregularities in raising gas prices.
The recent central government notification has amended the November 8, 1993 notification of the Lieutenant Governor, saying it shall be applicable to the officers and employees of that (Delhi) government only.
"This notification shall apply to the officers and employees of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi," the fresh notification reads.
A bench of Justice V K Shali posted the matter for further hearing on October 16, by when ACB and Delhi government will have to file their fresh replies in view of the recent development.
RIL and others will have to file their responses to the replies of Delhi government and ACB before the next date of hearing.
Meanwhile, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the complainants on whose complaint the then Aam Aadmi Party government had ordered registration of FIR, said that in view of a Supreme Court judgement, it can be inferred that ACB has "concurrent territorial jurisdiction to investigate corruption cases which take place within its domain".
Earlier, ACB had sought dismissal of RIL's plea for quashing of the FIR, saying that the plea that it (ACB) lacked the power to probe the matter was "absurd" and "misconceived".
"The jurisdiction of the answering respondent (ACB) or the state police cannot be judged by subjects mentioned in the Union list (List I) or state list (List II) but has to be judged on the basis of situs of the alleged crime.
"The complaint disclosed commission of the offences in Delhi, and ACB having jurisdiction over national capital territory of Delhi, has validly exercised the jurisdiction to investigate. Once the commission of cognisable offence is made out in the complaint, it makes no difference as to who is the complainant," an affidavit, filed by Kailash Chandra, Secretary-cum-Director of Vigilance department, had said.
Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government had lodged the FIR naming then Petroleum Minister Moily, RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani and others on gas pricing issue and had alleged that the Congress-led UPA government "favoured" RIL with an eye on 2014 general elections and BJP maintained "silence" hoping to gain corporate funding for the polls.
The charges had been denied by RIL and others.
In 2004, the Centre had signed a long term gas supply agreements with NTPC and the private firm at the rate of USD 2.34 per mmBtu and later in 2007, the price of gas was fixed at USD 4.24 per mmBtu, ACB had said in its affidavit.
It had also said that later, the gas price, to be paid to the firms with effect from April 1, 2014, was again hiked to USD 8.4 per mmBtu by the then Oil minister and added that the cost incurred, however, is less than USD 1 per mmBtu.
Justice Manmohan, on August 6, had recused from hearing the case.
Earlier, the court had restrained ACB from taking any coercive action against the accused. It, however, had said that ACB can continue with its investigation into the matter.
The UPA-II government had also moved the court seeking quashing of the FIR, saying ACB of the Delhi Government has "no powers or jurisdiction to investigate" complaints against the Union Government's decision to fix prices of natural gas.
It had said that Delhi government should have approached CBI, as it is an appropriate agency for investigation of such cases.
The Union Government had said that it was not going into the merits of the allegation as the issue was pending before the Supreme Court and its petition was seeking to declare that ACB has no jurisdiction in regard to employees/public servants of the central government and to quash the FIR.
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