In a major relief to the UPA government, the Election Commission on Monday decided to put on hold the revision of natural gas prices scheduled from April 1, 2014.
The Commission conveyed its decision to petroleum ministry officials who had come to the commission’s office to explain the rationale and the impact of the proposed revision.
A formal letter from the commission has been sent.
The commission decided that the price revision be kept on hold until the model code of conduct ends on May 18, the date the entire election process gets over. This would effectively mean that the price revision would fall in the domain of the new government which would be formed after the election result on May 16, 2014.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would claim political victory for the deferment as it sought the Commission’s intervention in stalling the price hike with AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal writing to the EC that hike was a violation of the model code of conduct and alleged that the decision was aimed at providing windfall gains to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited.
However, the decision would save the UPA the public ire, as consumer price of piped natural gas (to households) and CNG (for city transport) would have been raised by almost one-third to reflect the near doubling of producer prices from April 1 — a step that could only get negative votes in towns and cities.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, was the first to publicly suggest the matter be referred to the Election Commission.
The EC’s decision also provides a breather against the ongoing public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court as well as investigations by Delhi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in the role of petroleum minister M Veerappa Moily’s in raising the gas price to benefit Reliance Industries Limited.
“These proceedings would now take a backseat,” said sources.
The petroleum ministry is now seeking an opinion from the Solicitor General to term the FIRs filed by the ACB as non est or non-existent and be quashed by the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi.
Sources said that the EC’s main worry was the confusion and chaos that would have prevailed due to sudden spike in fertiliser and power price owing to the gas price revision.
Since the government had not provided for an increase in the fertiliser subsidy or the hike in electricity tariff, it was felt that these issues be addressed first.
It also did not see any merit or any urgency in executing the notification of January 10, 2014, and thought that it could be held back for two more months.
The discussion with the commission’s collegium on Monday was attended by petroleum ministry officials and two law officers.