The EGoM meeting, the first in more than 18 months, was to consider changes in gas allocation in view of sharp drop in output from Reliance Industries’ (RIL) eastern offshore KG-D6 block
New Delhi: A meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee that was scheduled for 14th February to consider changes in the natural gas allocation policy, has been postponed, reports PTI.
“There is no written communication but we have been verbally told that the meeting will not happen on 14th February,” an oil ministry official said.
No new dates have been fixed.
The EGoM meeting, the first in more than 18 months, was to consider changes in gas allocation in view of sharp drop in output from Reliance Industries’ (RIL) eastern offshore KG-D6 block.
The oil ministry had proposed to the EGoM to stop gas supplies to power producers that do not sell electricity at regulated tariff and cancel allocation to a few merchant power plants in Andhra Pradesh that currently sell electricity at way above the tariff determined by the sector regulator.
Also, it proposes making future gas allocations to only urea fertiliser plants and fuel supply to phosphates and potassium fertiliser producers be stopped.
KG-D6 gas output has fallen to below 39 million metric standard cubic meters per day (mmscmd) after touching peak of 60 mmscmd in March 2010, prompting the ministry to suggest changes in the allocation policy.
The official said the requirement of 13.22 mmscmd of gas for urea plants beyond 15.7 mmscmd that has already been allocated from KG-D6, would be placed before the EGoM.
Similarly, the requirement of 31.81 mmscmd gas for 14 power plants with a total capacity of 7,219.5 MW that are to be commissioned in 11th Five Year Plan period ending 31st March would be placed before the ministerial panel.
Currently, power plants have been allocated 32.67 mmscmd of KG-D6 gas.
Also, the admissibility/quantum of marketing margin charged by RIL on sale of KG-D6 and the oil ministry’s decision to ask the Petroleum & Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) to regulate marketing margins would be placed before the EGoM.
The power ministry’s proposal to ask RIL to sign an agreement to supply 2.16 mmscmd of gas to NTPC may also figure in the EGoM meeting whenever it is next scheduled, the official said.
RIL not signing pact for supply of 2.74 mmscmd of gas out of the 4.46 mmscmd of allocated to five power projects may also figure in the EGoM meeting whenever it is scheduled next, the official said.
RIL had not signed Gas Sale Purchase Agreement (GSPA) for 2.74 mmscmd including 2.16 mmscmd to state-owned NTPC, in view of falling KG-D6 output.
Besides attempting to strangulate transparency by slow appointment of information commissioners, is the post of Maharashtra CIC is now being favoured for a particular bureaucrat?
Vijay Kuvalekar held two posts simultaneously – that of Pune division’s State Information Commissioner as well as Acting State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC). He retired on 7th February. The question is who is going to be the next SCIC? The Right To Information Act (RTI) clearly mentions that, “The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.’’
However, in Maharashtra, as else where, we find Chief Ministers with connivance of opposition leaders, who are part of the selection committee, constantly tipping a bureaucrat, sometimes a corrupt one, to don the sacred chair of information commissioners.
State Information Commissioner Ramanand Tiwari who was sacked (thanks to citizen pressure groups) after his involvement in the infamous Adarsh Scam case (in his role as principal secretary, urban development department) was revealed. On 11 October 2010, Anna Hazare wrote a letter protesting against the appointment of Vilas Patil as SCIC, as Mr Patil in his earlier role as information commissioner had let off many public information officers (PIOs) with a mere warning, instead of penalizing them. Despite that, he was made the SCIC and showed utter indifference in disposing off the huge pile of second appeals.
Thereafter, the Maharashtra government continued to burden information commissioners with additional charge of another division. This means five information commissioners were looking after nine divisions. However, with the retirement of Mr Kuvalekar on 7th February, the number has come down to four.
Now, allegations are flying thick and fast, that the SCIC post is being reserved for one particular bureaucrat – Maharashtra Chief Secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad, who is retiring in the next six months. If this is true, then it violates the very norm prescribed in the RTI Act, that, complete transparency has to be adopted, by giving equal opportunity to potential candidates from several fields like “in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.’’
This again brought the citizen pressure groups into action. Last week Mumbai based social activist Raj Awasthi filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court, seeking supervision by the Court in appointment of Information Commissioners in the state. The final hearing is scheduled on 16 April 2012.
Besides, another Mumbai-based RTI activist, Krishnaraj Rao, along with several other citizen groups have dashed off a letter on 3rd February to Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan, demanding transparency in appointment of the SCIC, questioning alleged favouritism to Mr Gaikwad to don the mantle of SCIC and taking objection to short tenure of SCICs.
Mr Rao says that his protest is based on reliable sources in the Mantralaya of a certain lobby pushing Mr Gaikwad into becoming the SCIC. It is also based on the fact that Bhaskar Patil, present information commissioner of the Amravati division will take over as SCIC for next six months and would retire thereafter. In the meanwhile, Mr Gaikwad who has been given extension of six months in his present position as chief secretary will also retire and take over as the next SCIC.
The letter written by Mr Rao states, “It is with great anguish that we are writing this letter to you. We have learned from the inner circles at Mantralaya that the Right to Information movement in our beloved State is being held hostage to the personal ambitions of influential bureaucrats. The Chief State Information Commissioner’s post is being involved in the inside-politics of Mantralaya.”
“Specifically, we learn with shock and concern that the seat of Chief Information Commissioner is being kept vacant for Mr Ratnakar Gaikwad, so that he can take it up after he retires in November 2012 (retirement in May, plus six months extension).”
“To keep the seat warm for Mr Gaikwad after the present Acting Chief SIC Vijay Kuvlekar retires on February 7, SIC Bhaskar Patil of Amravati Bench is to be made Acting Chief SIC. Very conveniently for Mr Gaikwad, SIC Bhaskar Patil is due to retire in nine months.”
“Sir, Maharashtra is suffering due to this game of musical chairs. Since the retirement of Chief SIC Suresh Joshi in October 2010, there have been two short-term chiefs, namely Chief SIC Vilas Patil (nine months) and Mr Kuvlekar (seven months).”
“Short-term chiefs and shortage of Information Commissioners are causing hardships to the Commission staff, who are unable to perform their duties. In the prevailing confusion, the pendency has crossed 20,000 and is rising at an alarming rate of 2000 cases per month. After Mr Kuvlekar’s retirement this week, there will be only four Commissioners manning nine posts or benches (Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Aurangabad, Amravati, Nagpur, Konkan, Brihanmumbai, plus Chief SIC’s post). This means that the pendency will rise even faster.’’
Krishnaraj Rao also pointed out that in the case of the appointment of the controversial PJ Thomas as Central Vigilance Committee (CVC), the Supreme Court had mandated that such posts should go through a transparent procedure. (summary and highlights of the case: http://tinyurl.com/SC-Verdict-CVC-appointment). Subsequently, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) issued a circular on 29 October 2011, calling for applications from the public for the posts of Central Information Commissioners (CIC). This has resulted in 214 applications for the post of CIC. Activists say a similar method should be followed for the post of information commissioner in Maharashtra as well.
However, several other non-government organisations (NGOs) are recommending specific names to the Chief Minister for the post of the SCIC. Leading RTI activist from Pune, Vijay Kumbhar states, “…by recommending specific names, the NGOs are making the same blunder as the politicians who are inadvertently or deliberately showing favouritism to one particular individual and so NGOs should refrain from such recommendations which kill fair play and transparency.’’
Mr Kumbhar too alleges that the Maharashtra government is indulging in ‘political convenience’ by not adopting the transparent method of seeking applications from public for the post of information commissioners and by appointing SCICs suitable to them. He says, “In various aspects the state as well as the central government has time and again shown that it wants to strangulate the RTI Act. Except for outwardly tom-tomming about the Sunshine Act that they have brought in, they have shown little regard for recommendations made by a pool of RTI activists across the country for transparency of selection of information commissioners.’’
As of now, there are nearly 20,000 second appeals pending with various information commissioners of Maharashtra. By not showing urgency in appointing the full quorum of information commissioners, clearly the power of the Sunshine law is getting diluted. Perhaps, the government is more bothered about its own vested interest in keeping official secrecy than in citizen interest which demands transparency and good governance as dictated by the RTI Act.
(Vinita Deshmukh is a consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])
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