Director General of Hydrocarbons Vinod Kumar Sibal,the deemed regulator overseeing the upstream business in the oil and gas sector,is in the eye of a storm as the Centre is considering an extension of his tenure,which ends on October 31.
The Central Vigilance Commission has ordered a discreet inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into allegations about Sibals links with Reliance Industries Limited and some other players in the oil business.
We received complaints against the Director General of Hydrocarbons from two sources,including one of our Chief Vigilance Officers. We have asked for a discreet enquiry and have referred the matter to the CBI, Central Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha told the Idea Exchange programme at The Indian Express today.
He said that a discreet enquiry was chosen since a preliminary enquiry would have had to take the formal,legal route and could be damaging for an officer if nothing substantive emerges from the complaint.
When contacted,Sibal said: I am upset not because I may be denied an extension but because the 2005 allegations are being raised by just one corporate house which has a conflicting interest (with RIL),to tarnish my image at a time when my case for extension is under consideration.
Meanwhile,the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani groups Reliance Natural Resources Limited (RNRL),which is locked in a fierce court battle with RIL over the pricing of gas supply from RIL to RNRL,filed a petition with the Supreme Court on Tuesday,seeking to place additional documents about Sibals alleged nexus with RIL.
The petition claimed that the DGH has been acting at the behest of RIL and in exchange of undue favours,has been doing favours to/accommodating RIL,including by way of approving capital expenditure of over Rs 40,000 crore.
The DGH plays an important role in as it checks the exploration programme of prospective bidders for oil and gas blocks,confirms the discovery size claimed by an operator,verifies its production plan and guarantees a level-playing field for all players.
The CVCs letter to the CBI and the Cabinet Secretary refers to a few other players in the gas sector,from whom Sibal purportedly enjoyed favours.
Sibals bungalow in Noida,(Sector 39,C-8),is owned by Jagjot Singh Anand,for which a rent of Rs 34,000 is paid through Sibals former employer Oil India Ltd. Anands wife,Mohinder Kaur Anand,is a director in Quest Petroleum,a firm awarded an on-land exploration block in November 2008 as part of a consortium that included Quippo Oil & Gas Infrastructure Ltd and SREI Infrastructure Finance Ltd.
Incidentally,Quest Petroleum was set up in April 2008,barely two months before the deadline for submitting bids for NELP VII.
Moreover,Sibals office in Noida (Sector 63,C-139) is owned by Comet Energy Solutions India (P) Ltd. After bidding successfully to lease the property to the DGH,the firms director Manjula Sethi asked the DGH administration to prepare the rent agreement in the name of Aambience Exim Private Ltd,a recently acquired 100% subsidiary of Comet.
Manjula Sethi is the wife of Naresh Sethi,who officially represents Weatherford Services,an international firm in the exploration business. Naresh Sethi is also associated with GX Technologies and Alcock McPhar GeoTech India. Both these firms were awarded speculative survey contracts by the DGH. Those interested in bidding for an exploration block pay such surveyors for data to assess the prospectivity of a block.
From April 2008 to early August,Sibals 26-year-old daughter Priya stayed in a 3-bedroom Mumbai apartment in Oshiwaras Samarth Aangan complex. The apartment was purchased by Comet Energy Solutions,as per the CVCs information.
When asked about the propriety of these benefits,Sibal had told The Indian Express: I am aware of the rules and official decorum. He claimed he was not aware that his office or his daughters previous residence in Mumbai was owned by Comet Energy.
On renting his house from Anand,whose wife is a director in Quest Petroleum,Sibal said,I know the owner. I dont know about his wifes firm or that it was allotted a block. But then so many people I know have been allotted a block. In any case,I dont pay rent from my salary. Oil India pays it.