New Delhi: The Delhi High Court restrained the anti-graft wing of the state government from "coercive steps" against Petroleum Minister M. Veerappa Moily and Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, among others, over the gas pricing issue.
"Notice is issued to the Delhi government. In the meantime, you (the counsel for Delhi government) take instructions. Carry on with the investigations. But no coercive steps shall be taken," the judge said, posting the matter for May 20.
A similar petition by Reliance Industries comes up for hearing in Justice Manmohan's court on that day.
The union government had moved the court seeking a restraining order on the anti-corruption branch of the Delhi government from probing a decision taken on the fixation of price for Reliance gas.
Appearing for the Union government, Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran submitted that the anti-graft branch has no jurisdiction to investigate the subject, since the constitution afforded no such powers to the state government.
The petition also wanted the charges filed with the police to be turned down.
The probe was ordered by the Aam Aadmi Party regime under Arvind Kejriwal. The charge-sheet thereon named Minister Moily, Ambani, former oil minister Murli Deora and former oil regulator V.K. Sibal as co-conspirators.
Parasaran said that when the Delhi government itself has limited powers, no agency set up by it can have higher authority, since law and order, police and related matters in Delhi are exclusively conferred on the central government.He also said as far as the matter pertaining to the actual decision on gas pricing was concerned, the Supreme Court is hearing two petitions on the matter, based on the suits by lawmaker Gurudas Dasgupta and non-government organisation Common Cause.
The top government counsel further pleaded that the Delhi branch of the anti-corruption wing cannot investigate central government employees and that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was the proper authority to deal with such issues.
"In a matter like this, higher officials have to be involved and conduct preliminary inquiry before registering any FIR. FIR cannot be registered like this by state against central employees," he added.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Reliance Industries, said: "This FIR is meant for scoring a political point. It's a way of telling the world, 'look I am against corruption'. If the investigation is not stopped it will only serve to humiliate and harass some people. The court should differentiate between genuine and motivated complaints."
The court also questioned how the state anti-corruption branch registered a FIR on the issue. "Can a sub-inspector understand the complex issue of gas pricing? Some senior officer can investigate it," Justice Manmohan said.
Ordering the probe, Kejriwal had argued that since the decision on gas pricing, which he alleged was taken solely to benefit Reliance Industries for extraneous reasons, was taken in the national capital his government had the authority to order a probe.
The matter pertains to an approval by the cabinet to double the price of gas extracted by Reliance from $4.2 per unit based on a formula suggested by a committee headed by C. Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council.
But the Election Commission, in an order last month, asked the central government to defer announcing the new price of natural gas produced by companies such as Reliance and wait for the general election to be over.