Companies & Sectors
Apex court asks Reliance Industries to respond to audit report
The Supreme Court on Monday asked Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) to respond within three weeks to the official auditor's report that had adversely commented on its operation of gas blocks in the KRishna-Godavari basin.
 
A bench of Justice T.S. Thakur, Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Kurian gave time after senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for the company, said that as against 30 audit objections initially, the government had notified 20 on which his client had to respond.
 
On January 16, the court sought RIL's response to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India that had recommended disallowing $357.16 million expenditure the company claimed to have incurred on drilling the wells and payments to contractors for the said gas blocks.
 
The report had also hauled up the oil ministry for the delays in fixing hydrocarbon prices and for following inconsistent parameters for expenditure estimation.
 
The court allowed three petitioners -- former Communist law maker Gurudas Dasgupta, non-government organisation Common Cause and advocate Manohar Lal Sharma -- and the government to file their replies to the company's reaction to the audit report.
 
The court also permitted Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar to file the status report in pursuant of the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee - a parliamentary panel that is examining the report.
 
As court deliberated on the next date of hearing, it was requested to assign an early date as RIL's plea for an arbitration on the gas pricing was listed for hearing by Justice Ranjan Gogoi. 
 
The court directed the listing of the matter for May 5 for directions on the hearing of the matter.
 
Besides other issues, Dasgupta, Common Cause and Sharma had moved the court challenging the previous government's decision to double gas prices from then $4.2 per unit to $8.4 per unit.
 
However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government by an October 25, 2014, notification issued new domestic gas pricing guidelines which came into force from November 1, 2014.
 
Under the new guidelines, the price of the gas was increased from $4.2 per unit to $5.61 per unit. But this was applicable to normal discoveries and not for deep, ultra-deep and other difficult operations. A decision on that is pending.
 
The new domestic natural gas pricing guidelines superseded the January 10, 2014, decision taken by the then government that was to be notified to come into force from April 1, 2014.
 
Besides pricing of the gas, petitioners Dasgupta and Common Cause have sought the relinquishment of the gas fields not developed as provided under the production-sharing contract.
 
The petitioners have also sought the cancellation of the contract with Reliance Industries and NIKO Resources, concerning the block.

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Bharat Ratna, Padma awards conferred on prominent people
India's high civilian honours - the Bharat Ratna and Padma awards - were on Monday conferred by President Pranab Mukherjee on a galaxy of prominent people who have done the country proud.
 
Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, was bestowed posthumously on freedom fighter and eminent educationist Madan Mohan Malaviya at an investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday evening.
 
Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who too was honoured with the Bharat Ratna, was presented the medallion and the scroll of the award last week at his residence because of his ill health.
 
President Mukherjee, in a simple yet elegant ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, presented the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri to a host of leaders and prominent people from various walks of life.
 
The awards, which are announced on the eve of the Republic Day every year, this year included two Bharat Ratnas, three Padma Vibhushans, 12 Padma Bhushans and 34 Padma Shris.
 
BJP leader and former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Jagadguru Swami Rambhadracharya received the Padma Vibhushan.
 
Journalists Swapan Dasgupta and Rajat Sharma, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates were awarded the Padma Bhushan.
 
The Gates couple, however, could not come to personally receive their awards.
 
Poet-lyricist Prasoon Joshi, filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali and playwright Tarak Janubhai Mehta were some of the well-known people who received the Padma Shri.
 
Rajat Sharma shook hands with Prime Minister narendra Modi as he stood to receive Padma Bhushan.
 
People from the sports world included well-known wrestler Satpal, who received the Padma Bhushan for his outstanding performance in various international tournaments.
 
Renowned badminton player P.V. Sindhu and Indian hockey team captain Sardar Singh both received the Padma Shri.
 
The Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan was overcrowded as relatives and friends of the recipients occupied most of the chairs.
 
Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, many cabinet ministers and government officials were present.
 
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was also present at the awards ceremony. He was seen interacting with the media freely after the function.
 
Relatives and friends of the recipients cheered when the names of their loved ones were announced to receive the awards.
 
Some of them put their hands up while clapping and were seen pointing at the recipients of the honour.
 
On March 27, President Mukherjee made a break with protocol to drive down to Vajpayee's Krishna Menon Marg residence to confer the highest honour on the nonagenarian Bharatiya Janata Party leader who has been keeping ill health.
 
Ansari, Modi as well as former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Advani were among those who attended the presentation on that day.
 
Modi expressed his gratitude to Mukherjee for going to Vajpayee's home to personally hand over the award.
 
A photograph of the president presenting the medallion to Vajpayee was released later.

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Goa civil society threatens protest if official transferred
A young civil servant has captured the minds and hearts of people in this south Goa town, so much so that civil society activists have threatened to protest if the official is transferred.
 
Posted as chief officer of the Margao Municipal Council (MMC) four months back, 2012 batch Indian Administrastive Service (IAS) officer Naveen S.L. took many steps to simplify government rules and mechanisms for the common citizen and taking on vested interests.
 
In a matter of a week, he inspired two protests: one demanding his transfer by 16 out of 20 councillors and another demanding that he stay put, by civil society and young political activists.
 
Those supporting Naveen, a trained computer engineer, said while the pro-public and transparent mechanisms initiated by the 33-year-old officer have irked the councillors, the real reason why they want him ousted was a notice Naveen issued on Monday, ordering demolition of an illegal construction belonging to Mayor Gonzaco Rebello.
 
Rajashri Nagarcekar, a Margao dweller, told IANS: "The councillors of Margao have been holding a protest against the officer on grounds that they cannot function under him and other issues.
 
"But we know that the main reason is because the chief officer has ordered the demolition of an illegal structure which belongs to the mayor."
 
She is one of the many dozen activists who held the 16 councillors, including Rebello, to siege on Friday, demanding Naveen should not be transferred.
 
As a quasi judicial officer, Naveen in his order on March 24 said: "The court feels that having considered all the arguments, the structure (in question) has indeed been gifted to MMC in 2013 and thus forms (a part of) municipal property."
 
"As such, Section 174 (of the Goa Municipalities Act) rightfully applies to this structure which, as per transgress report, belongs to one Julio Rebello, and is occupied by Gonzaco Rebello. As such, the court deems it fit to issue a demolition order without notice as per Section 174 of Goa Municipalities Act."
 
Mayor Rebello and the councillors, who are demanding the officer's ouster, however claimed that their demand has nothing to do with the demolition order.
 
"We cannot work with him that is all. He has lost our confidence," the mayor said, not preferring to comment on the demolition notice.
 
His aide Damodar Shirodkar, who along with his colleagues had staged a protest against Naveen on March 25, alleged that he has proof of corruption by the officer.
 
Shirodkar could however produce no evidence, after civil society activists demanded an explanation from him during their siege of the elected representatives on Friday.
 
"Margao will see an agitation if Naveen is transferred. We, as citizens instead want the council itself dissolved," says prominent city lawyer-activist Rajiv Gomes, who spearheaded the civil society agitation in favour of the officer.
 
The reasons for popular adulation of the officer are the series of public welfare and transparent systems initiated in his short four-month tenure as chief officer.
 
These include a toll-free helpline for municipality-related queries and civic grievances, an aggressive tax recovery drive, prompt action against illegalities and a single-window system for construction licences with minimum red tape, which keeps contact between the applicant and the MMC officials, councillors to the minimum.
 
"After years we have an honest officer, who is putting the city first. We want him to continue, despite what the councillors say," said another activist Dickson Vaz.
 
Margao, 35 km from Panaji, is known as the commercial capital of the small coastal state.

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