Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hindustan Petroleum whistleblowers not reinstated even a year after HC order June 16, 2011 06:24 PM |

Hindustan Petroleum whistleblowers not reinstated even a year after HC order
June 16, 2011 06:24 PM |
Moneylife Digital Team
No one held guilty in the faulty petroleum adulterant marker case

Moneylife recently reported about the plight of a whistleblower, who took on Indian Oil Corporation, but has not been compensated fully despite a judicial victory. He is not alone, though. Whistleblowers at Hindustan Petroleum, after almost a year, are still similarly unemployed and their plight ignored.

In August 2010, the Bombay High Court upheld the complaint made against the authenticity of an adulterant marker, which the government had purchased at extraordinarily high rates from a UK firm. HPCL officials Ravi Srivastava and Ashok Singh lost their jobs in 2008, when they blew the lid on the issue. Though the court order vindicated their stand, they have neither been compensated financially, nor reinstated in their jobs.

A message from Moneylife to HPCL on this issue has not been answered.

"We are still without jobs," said Mr Srivastava, "just doing some work with some consultants here and there. No compensation, no prestige." To add insult to injury, in November 2010 Mr Srivastava's RTI query to the oil ministry about the status of the Authentix marker revealed that 'the inquiry is still in progress'.

"It has been proved that this adulterant marker could be easily tampered. The CBI has also registered a case against MS Srinivasan, the then secretary in the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, Authentix and their Indian agent SGS, and several officials from oil companies like Bharat Petroleum, HPCL and Indian Oil. What is left to be proved," Mr Srivastava asked.

A marker is a coloured chemical, which if added to substances like kerosene or naptha, can be visually detected if these are mixed with petroleum for adulteration. The government, in order to stop massive adulteration by addition of kerosene allocated to PDS, asked all oil companies to add a supposedly infallible marker from Authentix in kerosene and other cheap fuels in 2006.

Mr Srivastava and his colleague were serving as treasurer and president of the Oil Sector Officers' Association (OSOA), when in May 2008 they received complaints from various corners that there were 'serious irregularities in procurement, specification and implementation' of the policy on this particular marker.

The officers investigated the matter, and discovered that the marker could be got rid of easily with clay and other ordinary lab chemicals. A website named conducted a survey at several petrol pumps, depots and oil-cargo ferries, and concluded that the marker had fared pretty badly. The government had also struck a benevolent deal with Authentix, via their Indian agents SGS, and the marker was purchased at Rs13,000 per litre without any chemical specifications. No wonder, Authentix listed the deal as the "largest fuel adulterant marking contract in history" on their website.

When they pointed out the flaws with the marker, Mr Singh was fired first, and Mr Srivastava was stripped of all facilities, accommodation and perquisites. Later, when the officers protested against the arbitrary appointment of a non-employee to a high position, Mr Srivastava was accused of 'instigating other officers' and fired from his job.

In 2008, the duo approached the chief vigilance commissioner, who refused to grant them protection as whistleblowers, treating them as ordinary complainants. A year later, CNN-IBN reported their story and exposed Authentix's dubious reputation abroad. In April 2010, Simpreet Singh, activist, filed a writ petition against the oil ministry's extravagant favour granted to Authentix. During the hearing, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) also released a report that showed there were many lapses in the process, and that the government had awarded the contract to Authentix without inviting a global tender.

The Bombay High Court upheld the whistleblowers' complaints. However, they received no compensation. "Neither Murli Deora who was the minister then, nor other government officials, nor the companies were punished. And, the inquiry on Authentix marker is still 'in progress'. Why would anyone risk their necks to point out discrepancies then," he said.

Fuel adulteration has reached worrying proportions, and the oil mafia has got more entrenched. In January, Yashwant Sonawane, additional collector, was burnt alive when he tried to investigate an instance of fuel theft. If the government chooses to ignore the calls from within the industry and does not protect the whistleblowers, the perils will intensify.
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show details Jun 25 (4 days ago)
Petro Intelligence » For Whom The Bell Tolls
A sudden burst of aggressive investigation into the deep-seated cartels and cabals has led to mind-boggling estimates of the extent of corruption that has eaten into the vitals of governing institutions and sparked a public outcry against the perpetrators of large-scale shenanigans.

The empire is finally striking back.

People of great influence – who have fattened their coffers for years on the basis of power, privilege, and pelf – have been hurled into a grimy prison and forced to confront the fate of common felons. Their fall from grace has been as sudden as it has been ignominious.

The investigators first exposed the scandalous wheeling-dealing in sporting events like cricket and the commonwealth games. The telecom spectrum scam felled several high-rollers. And now there’s the first sign of trouble for Reliance Industries – the country’s largest private conglomerate – that could trigger a quake on a dimension that the country has never seen before.

The revelations in a leaked draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the capital expenditure in India’s first and only commercially exploited deep-water gas field has raised the spectre of a “huge scam”.

The CAG hasn’t quantified it as yet but the indications seem to suggest that the derring-do in the KG-D6 gas block – which was touted as the world’s biggest gas discovery in 2002 – could wreck the reputation of the people who have shaped the destinies of many top politicians and bureaucrats and configured the contours of India’s policies and statecraft.

The CAG’s damning draft on the KG-D6 gas block can undergo changes and the size of the alleged loot may get magnified or diminished in the final report. But judging by the contents of one chapter (read column: Regulation) of the draft — which was missing from the copies leaked out to the press — the report, which is expected to be finalised by August, should trigger a major scam.

For RIL, the timing of the draft is most unkind. It is one of the rarest moments in independent India’s history where the system has started to assert itself against the people who have been regarded as its principal wreckers.

Neither the judiciary nor the CBI can apply different yardsticks when dealing with the new scam. The UPA government will be exposed if it tries to bail out the guilty. So will other political parties that were eloquent about the 2G spectrum scam. The only saving grace for RIL so far is that the CAG hasn’t clearly spelt out the extent of the loss and merely said it was “huge”.

Manmohan Singh already acted with a little foresight. He shifted Murli Deora and his junior Jitin Prasada from the petroleum ministry in February. Its secretary was bundled out and the heads of a couple of officials are on the chopping block. Deora, who is now managing another ministry in the UPA government, is expected to be dropped in the imminent cabinet reshuffle. The CBI, which has already registered a preliminary investigation into KG-D6 affairs, has begun to reactivate the machinery.

V.K. Sibal, the former boss of the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH), may have nightmarish days ahead. Sibal did not have independent powers. He could only forward his recommendations to his bosses who were the secretary of the Ministry and the minister himself.

M.S. Srinivasan was the secretary when the capital expenditure on the KG-D6 gas field was cleared – which is now at the centre of scrutiny. P.M.S. Prasad, chief of RIL’s OIL division who was subsequently elevated as executive director, is acknowledged to be the architect of the KG-D6 exploration. The architect should know the cost of a project better than anybody else.

The shape of the KG-D6 scam is very different from the spectrum scandal because the investigations are unlikely to throw up proof of direct bribe payments to any individual. The nature of the business and the way that it operates is a lot different.