The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against continuing with the over 17-year judicial inquiry into allegations of corruption in setting up of the Enron-promoted Dabhol power plant in Maharashtra.
“In view of the long delay and in view of the fact that due to non-availability of many persons involved, no useful purpose would be served in continuing with the judicial commission of inquiry, we close the petition in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case,” a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna ordered.
The Dabhol power project was set up in 1996 in Maharashtra by US-based Enron and its associate Dabhol Power Corporation. It had a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB).
The Dabhol Power Company (DPC) became defunct and is now known as the Ratnagiri Gas and Power Pvt Ltd, a joint venture of NTPC Limited, GAIL and the Maharashtra government.
In 1997, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) – the CPI(M)’s trade union wing – moved the SC, challenging a Bombay High Court order upholding the Power Purchase Agreement.
While the special leave petition was pending, Maharashtra appointed a committee headed by Mahdav Godbole, former home secretary, to go into the matter.
The Godbole Committee, which pointed to the role of some politicians in its report submitted in April 2001, also suggested setting up a judicial commission.
Following this, a one-man enquiry commission under former SC judge Justice S P Kurdukar was formed.
Proceedings of the Justice Kurdukar Commission, however, were stayed in April 2003 as the Centre had filed a lawsuit against the Maharashtra government. This suit was dismissed in 2014, but the Commission did not function even after that.
Maharashtra recently filed an affidavit saying that due to long efflux of time, it was no longer useful or feasible to continue with the judicial commission of inquiry.
Finding substance in the submission, the bench on Thursday ruled, “We are of the considered view that though normally in such a case, a judicial inquiry should have been conducted, but as far as the present case is concerned, more than a quarter of century has elapsed since the first PPA was executed. The foreign corporation and the original project proponents are no longer available. Most of the senior officials would have retired and virtually no action can be taken against them. Furthermore, the commission of inquiry even if continued or constituted afresh, will take its own time and, as opined by three members of the Godbole Committee, the constitution of such commission of inquiry would serve no useful purpose.”