EC defends gas price order, says govt could have revised rates

Tags: News
The Election Commission today defended its decision to delay the increase in natural gas prices till completion of elections, saying the UPA government could have gone ahead and revised the rates if it was confident the decision was taken much earlier.

"Basically, if the Petroleum Ministry was very sure that they had taken the decision (of revising natural gas prices from April 1) long back then what was the need for referring it to the Election Commission? They could have as well implemented it," Election Commissioner H S Brahma told CNBC TV18.

The EC yesterday evening asked the ministry to defer raising the prices because the Supreme Court was hearing a case on allegations that Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries would benefit from the higher rates at the expense of the common man.

The Cabinet had first in June 2013 and then in December decided to price all domestically produced natural gas at an average of international hub rates and the price of importing LNG into India. This decision was notified on January 10.

The ministry had approached the EC on March 13 for approval to announce the rate to be applicable from April 1.

Brahma said once an issue is referred to the EC, the poll watchdog assesses if the decision would create a non-level playing field for the contesting parties and if the issue is not of normal nature.

"Suppose the decision was taken one year back or six months back...They could have implemented it. If they have a doubt, naturally we also have a doubt," he said.

Before asking the government to defer the price hike, the commission yesterday held discussions with ministry officials, who mentioned the case pending in the Supreme Court against raising gas prices, he said.

If an issue is "sub judice in a particular court, I would not like to interfere," he added.

After the EC decision, the UPA government is left with no option but to leave implementation of the pricing formula that would have hiked gas prices from USD 4.2 per million British thermal units to USD 8.3, to the next government.

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