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Ambani gas row dominate SC in 2009

Last updated on: December 29, 2009 11:05 IST

Law booksThe year 2009 saw a high-voltage legal battle between the Ambani brothers over the gas dispute reaching the Supreme Court with a judge withdrawing from the bench.

The apex court also heard a plea for bringing back black money stashed in tax havens abroad.

Top lawyers were engaged by both Mukesh Ambani Group Reliance Industries Limited and Anil Ambani-led Reliance Natural Resources Limited over the dispute relating to the supply and pricing of gas from the KG Basin.

The 26-day marathon hearing was not free from controversy as a senior judge recused himself after six days of hearing.

Justice R V Raveendran, who agreed to hear the matter after declaring that he held equal shares in both companies, withdrew himself from the Bench on the ground that his daughter was working in a law firm which was advising one of them in the global projects.

The legal fight between Ambanis saw the government in a piquant situation when RNRL accused the government of siding with RIL.

The government also stepped in to defend public sector NTPC, which according to the agreement with RIL will get gas at $2.34 per unit. RNRL is seeking gas at the same rate.

The judgement in the Ambani gas row by a Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan has been reserved.

The issue of black money stashed in foreign banks was brought before the apex court by eminent jurist Ram Jethmalani and some bureaucrats and academicians just before the Lok Sabha elections.

A bench headed by the chief justice sought explanation from the Centre which after much dilly-dallying filed an affidavit about the steps taken by it.

The affidavit was termed as an eyewash by the petitioners even as government said that Enforcement Directorate has already initiated proceedings against Pune-based businessman Hasan Ali Khan under the Money Laundering Act.

The matter relating to land acquisition for special economic zones also figured in the Supreme Court.

The apex court dismissed the plea for staying the land acquisition process for Mukesh Ambani-promoted project in Raigarh in Maharashtra.

The land acquisition process had hit the roadblock after farmers in 22 villages opposed it in a referendum initiated by the state government last year.

The land acquisition for SEZ, which was to come up in an area of 10,000 hectares at an investment of Rs 40,000 crore (Rs 400 billion), was to be completed within two years since it was given clearance in June 2005 and later two extensions were given.

The conflict of interest in hearing corporate matters came to the forefront this year in the apex court with judges forced to recuse themselves.

The worst came when Justice S H Kapadia, who is next in line to be the Chief Justice of India, was accused by an advocate in an interview to a news magazine of hearing the matter of the company in which he held shares.

Justice Kapadia, who was in a Special Forest Bench, was accused of hearing the mining matter of Vedanta-Sterlite.

The controversy did not end as the apex court has initiated contempt proceedings against advocate Prashant Bhushan for his alleged comments.

Later Justice Kapadia also withdrew from the Bench hearing a matter pertaining to public offer made by London-based Vedanta Resources to buy additional stake in iron ore exporting firm Sesa Goa as he happens to be shareholder of a sister company.

Justice Markandey Katju also realised that conflict of interest was coming in way of his deciding the dispute between RIL and BPCL, the verdict of which he had reserved after hearing the matter for two years.

The grounds cited by Justice Katju to recuse was that his wife held shares in RIL.

Telecom disputes particularly relating to the spectrum allocation also figured in the apex court with the Department of Telecom rushing with an appeal against the Delhi high court decision quashing its government order advancing the cut-off date for allocation of 2G spectrum.

Corporate crime and corruption also consumed the time of the apex court with the year commencing with matters relating to Satyam fraud by its CEO Ramalingam Raju.

While the Satyam founder was in custody, a plea by market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India was allowed to interrogate him in prison in connection with the Rs 7,800-crore (Rs 78-billion) scam.

It also rejected the plea of financial industry magnate Nimesh N Kampani seeking quashing of criminal proceedings initiated against him by the Andhra Pradesh government in the Nagarjuna Finance scam case.

Among government matters, the income tax department had a tough time in the apex court to explain its stand of allowing actor Amitabh Bachchan withdraw his security expense claim amounting to around Rs 6.90 crore (Rs 69 million), the actor's income from popular TV game show 'KBC' in 2001-02.

Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel received a setback when the apex court refused to stop criminal proceedings against him in a Rs 40 crore (Rs 400 million) fraud case involving a company once chaired by him.

Among the environmental matter, the apex court came down heavily on the bleaching and dyeing industry in Tirupur for releasing untreated effluents into Noyyal river.

The Reddy brothers of Karnataka got a jolt from the Supreme Court when at the fag end of the year it banned mining activity at the Anantpur village in Andhra Pradesh. However, before this incident, the mining activities in Aravali hills in Haryana were totally stopped.

Ranjit Kumar Sinha in New Delhi
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