Lavasa officials meet Ramesh; look for ‘negotiated solution’

New Delhi: After offering a lifeline to the controversial Lavasa hill city, environment minister Jairam Ramesh today said efforts are being made to find a "negotiated solution" on the stalled Rs3,000-crore project in Pune, reports PTI.

"We are trying to find a negotiated solution...trying to find a compromise," Mr Ramesh told reporters when asked about his meeting with officials from the Hindustan Construction Company HCC), which is undertaking the township project.

According to sources close to the development, company's chairman and managing director Ajit Gulabchand and other officials met the minister at his office today.

Providing a ray of hope for Lavasa, which allegedly violated green norms, the environment ministry had said last week that it was prepared to consider the project being constructed near Pune on "merits" subject to fulfilment of certain conditions.

The ministry, however, had ordered that no further construction should be undertaken for now.

Mr Ramesh, who said that the government's meetings with HCC officials were still on, maintained that "we don't want to minimise the integrity of the environmental process."

"The environmental integrity has to be maintained," the Minister said.

He said that the company officials have "mentioned to me that the project needs to go forward."

"Now we are trying to see that how best the conditions can be fulfilled," Mr Ramesh said.

The minister said the court will consider the case on 27th January. "Let us see what will happen," he added.

The ministry's recent order had held that the construction is "unauthorised" involving "environmental degradation" and hence status quo should be maintained on construction on the project in accordance with the ministry's 25 November 2010 order prohibiting any work at the site.



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Oil ministry sets 11 preconditions for Vedanta-Cairn deal

New Delhi: The oil ministry is ready to give an "in-principle" approval for Vedanta Resources' $9.6 billion acquisition of Cairn India, provided the mining firm led by billionaire Anil Agarwal agrees to a set of 11 preconditions, reports PTI.

Earlier this month, the oil ministry had sought the law ministry's opinion on the legality of imposing certain preconditions on the stake sale, including Vedanta agreeing to withdraw pending lawsuits filed by Cairn with respect to payment of oil cess and accepting partner ONGC's pre-emption rights.

Sources said the ministry also wants Vedanta to agree to consider the royalty paid on crude oil produced from Cairn's mainstay Rajasthan block in the project cost and its profits calculated thereafter.

As per the production sharing contract (PSC), the operator is permitted to recover all project costs from the sale of oil or gas produced from a field before a mechanism for profit-sharing with the government comes into play.

State-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) holds a 30% stake in the Rajasthan block RJ-ON-90/1, but pays the royalty on the entire quantum of production, as it is the licencee of the block.

If the royalty paid by ONGC on behalf of Cairn is taken into consideration while calculating the project cost, this would lower the profits of the Scottish Energy firm, which does not pay royalty on its 70% share of the projected 12 million tonnes per annum output from the block.

Sources said the preconditions also include Vedanta guaranteeing that Cairn's technical capability will be undisturbed by the share transfer and the London-listed firm providing a fresh financial and performance guarantee.

The ministry also wants Vedanta to accept the government's decision on future exploration activities and expenditures as "final and binding", as well as unconditionally accept the government's position on issues that have been challenged by Cairn in courts.

Like royalty, Cairn believes the liability to pay cess of Rs2,500 per tonne on all crude oil produced from the Rajasthan block also rests on ONGC.

This position has been disputed by ONGC and the ministry, which say that cess is to be paid by the project partners in proportion to their shareholding and the matter is under arbitration, sources said.

The ministry said its "in-principle approval shall be further subject to ONGC's decision on the right of first refusal" on the Rajasthan block, as the solicitor general of India's view was that the transfer triggered ONGC's pre-emption rights.

The new oil minister, S Jaipal Reddy, had last week stated he will "not lose time" in deciding on giving consent to Vedanta buying Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy's majority stake in Cairn India.

"The issues relating to Cairn-Vedanta have legal implications. So some of them have been referred to the law ministry for clarification," Mr Reddy had stated.

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) had asked the oil ministry to decide whether to give consent to the deal by January-end, at least a month earlier than the deadline the ministry had set for itself when Murli Deora was at its helm.

"All fairness will be pressed into seriously (in deciding on the case). We will go by the rule book," Mr Reddy had said.

The PMO had to press for an early decision as the approval accorded to the deal by shareholders of Cairn and Vedanta was valid up to 15th April.

After acquiring Cairn Energy's stake, the London-listed firm's Indian unit, Sesa Goa, will make an open offer for an additional 20% stake to minority shareholders of Cairn India.

Sources said going by the February-end deadline set by oil secretary S Sundareshan for a decision on the acquisition, Vedanta would have been unable to close the deal by 15th April.

This is because the open offer, which can be made only after government consent to the deal, will have to remain open for subscription for at least 60 days.

If the government decision on the deal was to come by February-end (or in March, as was indicated by Mr Deora), the open offer could not have begun before the first week of March and it would have closed in end-April or early May, missing the 15th April deadline, they said.

After the PMO directive, Mr Sundareshan had on 10th January stated that his ministry will decide on giving approval to the deal by January-end or early February.

Cairn made formal applications for transfer of control in all 10 properties it has in India on 23rd November.

Mr Sundareshan had subsequently stated that his ministry "will need at two to two-and-half months to decide' on the application and indicated that the government would take a stance on the proposal by February-end.

ONGC, which holds interest in all three producing properties of Cairn and five out of its seven exploration acreages, claims that it has pre-emption, or the right of first refusal, on the deal.


Court issues bailable warrant against Subrato Roy

New Delhi: A Delhi court today issued a bailable warrant against Subrato Roy, chairman of the Sahara India Group, in a case of alleged cheating and forgery in a housing project launched by his company, reports PTI.

Chief metropolitan magistrate Vinod Yadav directed the Delhi police to execute the warrant against Mr Roy and four other company officials by 9th February.

The warrant was issued on a complaint filed by Neeraj Pandey who alleged that the company has not started the housing project despite getting a payment of Rs1 lakh in year 2003.

He has alleged that the company had launched the scheme Sahara Swarn Yojna for developing 217 townships all over the country including the NCR region.

In the complaint filed on 12 April 2009 it was alleged that despite the promise made in 2003, no progress was made for its project in the NCR region and the company after six years offered to return Rs1.58 lakh.

The complaint was lodged for the registering a first information report (FIR) for cheating and forgery against Mr Roy and others after police refused to lodge it.

"It is apparent that till date no allotment has been made to the complainant. It is also apparent that even the site of the township has not been disclosed to him giving rise to the presumption that despite collecting money from the proposed allottee the township has not been established," the court said.

Mr Pandey, who filed the complaint through advocate Ashutosh Bhardwaj, alleged that the company has collected Rs1 lakh each from 25,000 people from the NCR region but the project has not taken off till date.

The court after hearing the contention said there was enough prima facie evidence to take action against Mr Roy and other company officials.

"It is also apparent that all promises were held out to the general public through brochures/booklets which prima facie amounts to forging the documents. In my opinion there is prima facie enough material on record to proceed against them for offences punishable under Sections 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 120B (conspiracy) of the IPC," the CMM said.

"There are further allegations that when the complainant approached this court and invoked criminal proceedings against Mr Roy and others, they used all possible measures to thwart this litigations, firstly by intimidating him and secondly by sending him the cheques of amount without he having asked for the same and thereafter invoking the arbitration clause, knowing fully well that the same was for civil litigation and not for criminal litigations," he said.


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