Wednesday, June 29, 2011

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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.

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