Top court drops Aussie arbitrator in RIL-govt row

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Spigelman’s name found on RIL list, forcing rollback of SC order

The Supreme Court on Wednesday kept in abey­ance its earlier order to appoint former Australian judge James Jacob Spigelman as the third arbitrator in a dispute between the government and the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries (RIL).

A division bench led by Justice SS Nijjar recalled its two-day-old order naming Spigelman as the presiding officer in the three-member arbitration panel after the Union government pointed out that the Australian judge topped the list of arbitrators that RIL had submitted earlier.

The court will appoint a new member to the panel shortly. The two other members of the panel are former chief justices of India; SP Bharucha named by RIL and VN Khare named by the oil ministry.

RIL has gone into arbitration with the government over allegations of ‘hoarding of gas’ in the KG-D6 fields to pile pressure on the latter to raise gas price to $8.4 per mmBtu.

RIL had sought the appointment of a neutral foreign arbitrator, as it did not agree to various names suggested by the government for the third member of the panel and the oil ministry rejected a list proposed by RIL.

The Supreme Court accepted RIL’s request for a foreign arbitrator, but did not appoint anyone from Canada or the UK as suggested by the Mukesh Ambani firm. Niko Resources, RIL’s partner in the KG-D6 fields, operates thr­ough a Cayman Islands outfit while British Petroleum has invested in Krishna-Godavari basin gas fields directly.

Justice Spigelman had reportedly taken early retirement as chief justice of New South Wales Supreme Court following accusations over an order that presumably favoured asbestos companies whose products caused pleural abnormalities for people.

The proposed hike in the gas price has been put on hold after the election commission asked the government to defer notification of a cabinet decision to revise the price with effect from April 1.

Petroleum secretary Saurabh Chandra has sought clearance from the poll panel as the election code of conduct came into force in preparation for the April-May national elections.

On Monday, the government ordered that fertiliser and power companies that use gas from KG basin would continue to pay $4.2 per mmBtu till a new price is decided after the new government takes charge. All other terms of engagement between RIL and the gas user firms will remain the same.

badarinath@mydigitalfc.com

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