Tuesday, June 14, 2011

‘PMO turned blind eye to repeated warnings on Reliance, Cairn'

A former Revenue Secretary, E.A.S. Sarma, has accused the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) of turning a “blind eye” to his repeated warnings about the “alleged irregularities” committed in auditing capital costs and allowing price and other concessions to the Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) in the KG basin and Cairn India in Rajasthan.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday, Mr. Sarma noted that he had written a series of letters to him on the apparent irregularities now unearthed by the Comptroller and Auditor-General in its draft report on production sharing contracts.

“As usual with the PMO, not a single one of these letters has been acknowledged for reasons best known to it. A copy of my letter dated August 8, 2009, addressed to CAG on Reliance gas from KG Basin in AP, was also sent to PMO without any response. I enclose here [with] copies of all these letters for your ready reference and also for the benefit of the public, as what I had then stated had serious public interest implications,” the letter states.

In his latest letter to Dr. Singh, Mr. Sarma says his efforts to secure information from the Cabinet Secretariat and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry have been stalled time and again. “I had been trying to secure information on the cost details of KG Basin gas by filing applications under the RTI Act before both the Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, but I have been driven from pillar to post by both these agencies. I was forced to file an appeal under that Act before the CIC who, incidentally, directed the Cabinet Secretariat on April 4, 2011 to provide me the required information. However, neither the Cabinet Secretariat nor the Petroleum Ministry has complied with the CIC's order till date.”

Referring to the CAG draft report carried by The Hindu, Mr. Sarma states that the manner in which the PMO, the Petroleum Ministry and the other agencies have kept silent on the irregularities pointed out by him and the manner in which the Cabinet Secretariat has stonewalled his RTI efforts “give me the uneasy feeling that the various government agencies including the PMO are apparently trying to hide the facts from the people of this country to benefit the oil companies,” adding, “I hope it is not true.”

The Visakhapatnam-based senior ex-bureaucrat, who runs a civil society forum, “Forum for Better Visakha,” further notes that at a time when the government is engulfed in a multitude of scams and its actions have come under the scrutiny of the judiciary, the issues raised in the case of both RIL and Cairn India assume a great deal of public importance.

Mr. Sarma says the latest report of the CAG needs to be considered against the overall background in which the government has done away with transparency, competitive bidding procedures and public accountability. “The independence of the regulators in different sectors has been largely compromised, as was evident in the case of appointment of CVC. The government can no longer try to convince the people that its hands are clean. I am circulating this letter along with all its enclosures for a public debate on the broader issue of corruption and the specific cases of improprieties I have referred to in this letter,” he concludes.

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