On 11 February 2014, three days before resigning as the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal held a press conference in New Delhi. Kejriwal sat behind a table cluttered with microphones alongside Manish Sisodia, a close aide and now the deputy chief minister of Delhi. He spoke, as the cameras flashed and recorders rolled, of a “decisive battle” that he was going to fight for the people of this country: “The battle against corruption.”
At the press conference, Kejriwal announced that a complaint had been filed in the Anti-Corruption Bureau by EAS Sharma, the former revenue secretary; TSR Subramaniam, the former cabinet secretary; Kamini Jaiswal, a senior advocate with the Supreme Court; and Admiral RH Tahiliani, the former chief of Naval staff. Citing the complaint, Kejriwal alleged that the central government and Reliance Industries Limited had colluded to create an artificial scarcity of natural gas produced in the Krishna Godavari gas basin, thereby increasing its price across the country.
He went on to say that the ACB had been directed to pursue criminal charges and file a First Information Report (FIR) against those named in the complaint: Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman of RIL; Veerapa Moily, who was the union minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas when the allegation was made; Murli Deora, Moily’s predecessor; and VK Sibal, the former Director General of Hydrocarbons. “Hamara manana hai ki mehangai humare desh mein bhrashtachaar ki wajah se ho rahi hai”—our belief is that there are high prices in the country only due to the problem of corruption—Kejriwal told the media. “Hummein is bhrashtachaar se sakti se nipatna hoga”—and we will have to deal with this corruption sternly.
According to the FIR which was filed on the same day, the cost of production of gas in the KG basin is much less than $2.34 per mmBtu (one million british thermal units, a measure for the energy content in fuel), the rate at which RIL had agreed to supply 132 trillion units of gas per annum to the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) for 17 years in June 2004 when Mani Shankar Aiyyar was the union minister for petroleum. Two years later in 2006, when Murli Deora replaced Aiyyar, the ministry approved a new plan that would allow Reliance to claim a production cost of $8.4 per mmBtu—four times the price agreed upon earlier. “The gas price in India has become one of the highest in the world,” the FIR noted.
On the same day that the FIR was filed, Reliance released a press statement and called the allegations “shocking,” while maintaining that the "complaint and each of the allegations on the basis of which the Delhi government took the decision are completely baseless and devoid of any merit or substance." Three days later, Kejriwal made a dramatic exit from his post on 14 February 2014 over his inability to introduce the Delhi Jan Lokpal Bill.
On May 2, as the country was consumed in a speculative frenzy around the general elections, RIL filed a plea in the Delhi High Court asking to quash the FIR. The company, in its plea, called the FIR “motivated and malicious” and a part of the “political gimmicking” that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has a taste for. The court responded by issuing a notice that asked the central government and RIL to cooperate with the investigation.
Next month, on 28 June, the Directorate of Vigilance responded to the plea by saying that since the FIR revealed a case of corruption, it was in its realm to investigate the matter. Delhi, at this point, was under president’s rule and the central government was reorienting itself under the leadership of Narendra Modi.
Less than a month later, on 23 July, the Modi government issued a damning notification that limited the powers of Delhi’s Anti Corruption Bureau—the investigating authority in this case—only to matters that involved the employees of the Delhi government. Although not all the respondents, or even the complainants live in the capital, the instances of alleged corruption happened in Delhi, a fact that Prashant Bhushan—a senior lawyer who was also a founding member of the AAP—reiterated to argue that this notification was null and void. .
“This notice is illegal for several reasons,” he told me during a conversation over phone. “First of all, police stations have territorial control—any offence committed in the boundaries of its jurisdiction can be investigated by it. In that sense, the Code of Criminal Procedure (1974) makes the investigation ‘offender neutral’,” Bhushan explained. He added, “And the central government has no power—despite the fact that the Delhi Police comes under the central government—to issue a notification that defers the Code of Criminal Procedure.”
In August 2014, using Twitter to voice his reservations, Kejriwal directly linked the notification to the investigation against Mukesh Ambani. “The Central government has quietly curtailed the powers of Delhi's Anti Corruption Bureau. Why? (Because) the ACB is investigating Mukesh Ambani,” he wrote.
Unfortunately, the initial furor associated with the investigation seems to have died down since. After being sworn in as the chief minister of Delhi for the second time on 14 February 2015, following AAP’s resounding victory in which the party secured 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi elections earlier this year, the tenacity that Kejriwal had put on display in that press conference has withered. The decisive battle, it would appear, has fallen off the priority chart. According to Jaiswal, one of the complainants, “The investigation is not going anywhere because Mr Kejriwal has gone off track. All the complainants had put faith in Mr Bhushan and his legal expertise, but the rift and lobbying within the party hasn’t left us with much hope.”
When we spoke, Bhushan told me that, “If (the Delhi government) were serious about the investigation, they could write an application to the Delhi High Court—where the matter of the ACB’s authority is pending—citing the reason why the investigation is stalled.”
None of the officials I reached out to at the Anti Corruption Bureau—about half-a-dozen of them—were willing to speak to me about the investigation. Manoj Agarwal, the investigating officer, told me, “I am not allowed to give you even a single word regarding this case.” He said that the only person who could talk to me about this matter was Manish Sisodia, the deputy chief minister and the head of the Directorate of Vigilance. Sisodia hasn’t responded to repeated requests for comment.
“If the government is not concerned about holding these people accountable, why should the ACB be bothered?” In a fairly unsurprised tone, Jaiswal added, “Kejriwal is just not interested anymore.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that VK Sibal was the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons. He was the Director General. Vantage regrets the error.
Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.