Former director general of hydrocarbons (DGH) V K Sibal has come under the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) scanner for allegedly extending favours to Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL). Now, the matter is being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for a second time, thanks to the Niira Radia tapes.
On Wednesday, the CBI had registered a preliminary inquiry into the issue, following an SC order. This isn’t the first time Sibal, the DGH between 2004 and 2009, is facing a CBI inquiry. In 2009, the agency had registered a preliminary inquiry against him, following a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) draft report on the approval to RIL for increase in capital expenditure on its D6 gas block in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin, which was said to have deprived the government of its legitimate share. CBI failed to find any criminality and, therefore, didn’t charge Sibal; the inquiry was closed.
But after going through the Radia tapes, the CBI categorised the suspected calls into 17 issues and said the conversations showed Sibal was indeed involved in some criminality or irregularity, adding the matter should be probed further.
Now, the agency would probe whether Sibal had shown undue favour to RIL.
After going through the CBI report on the tapes, the SC has asked the agency to probe the issue and file a report within two months.
In August 2008 and July 2009, when the income tax department had tapped Radia’s telephone conversations, she was helping RIL chief Mukesh Ambani in his bitter fight against younger brother Anil Ambani, promoting his cause in New Delhi’s bureaucratic and political circles.
At that time, RIL was also facing heat from the CAG. The auditor had questioned the roles of Sibal and the petroleum ministry, saying the estimated increase in the D6 capital expenditure from $2.4 billion to $8.7 billion between May 2004 and October 2006 was likely to have a “significantly adverse impact on the government’s financial take”.
The CAG also claimed instead of a comprehensive development plan mandated under the production-sharing contract, RIL had provided an initial development plan in May 2004 and followed it with an addendum. It questioned the costs incurred by RIL in light of various high-value procurement activities in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
The directorate general of hydrocarbons, as well as the ministry, hadn’t raised a red flag to this, instead allowing RIL to go ahead with the expenditure that reduced the government’s share of the profits.
Sibal didn’t answer a text message to his mobile. An email to RIL didn’t elicit any response.
Meanwhile, Sibal is facing another corruption charge. In 2011, the CBI had charged Sibal with criminal conspiracy, cheating and showing undue favours to a private entity called GX Technology. It was alleged in 2005, GX Technology had secured a contract for conducting a seismic survey on a nomination basis, at an exorbitant cost, causing a huge financial loss to the government.
GX Technology is a subsidiary of the US-based ION group, a technology-focused seismic solutions company.
After a First Information Report was filed on the issue, the case hasn’t seen any progress.
V K SIBAL’S CONTROVERSIAL TENURE
2004: VK Sibal becomes DGH for 5 years
2009: CAG blasts DGH, petroleum ministry for clearing RIL expenditure on KG D6
2009: CBI initiates an enquiry based on the CAG report
2011: CAG’s final report says DGH ill-equipped to oversee production-sharing contracts
2012: CBI closes inquiry as it fails to get enough evidence against DGH
2013: SC orders a CBI probe based on Radia tapes, CBI registers an inquiry