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‘Bad court management’? SC hearings wasted, Reliance proposes arbitration in gas pricing war

Reliance Industries, BP and Niko Resources on Saturday served the Indian government with an arbitration notice in order to allow them to increase the price of natural gas that was shelved by the Election Commission until the elections finish on 16 May.

Senior counsel Harish Salve, who has been representing Reliance, told Mint: “The pricing issue has been hanging for quite some time. Since a fixed date had been given by the SC, as I told the court - we did not initiate arbitration on the relinquishment or pricing issues. Now that the case will have to be re-fixed and reheard, and in the meanwhile, the earlier GSPA’s have elapsed, the Contractor has to protect its rights.

“Seeking a dispute resolution can hardly be called a pressure tactic. We now have a tribunal in place - we wanted to invite the government to have the entire matter resolved in one go... This is not war. It’s just an arbitration.”

A series of unfortunate events

The Supreme Court has also been hearing a petition against Reliance, in which NGOs represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan and senior counsel Colin Gonsalves have been alleging that the government has colluded with Reliance to raise the gas prices.

That bench, presided over by Justices BS Chauhan, Jasti Chelameswar and Kurien Joseph, stopped hearing the case one week ago after three weeks of arguments, when Joseph was deputed to a constitutional bench, shortly after Justice RM Lodha took over as Chief Justice of India (CJI) on 28 April.

Since 6 May Joseph was sitting on a five-judge bench headed by Lodha.

Chauhan, meanwhile, is due to retire on 1 July 2014 when the Supreme Court finishes its summer vacations that began on Friday, meaning that arguments in the Reliance case will have to be re-heard before a new bench after the holidays, at which point arbitration between the government and Reliance may also have started.

Senior counsel Soli Sorabjee commented on CNBC-TV18: “It was absolutely bad court management. The matter was argued at length and thereafter because of the remaining days being very few, 2 or 3 days and one of the judges now retiring or being appointed to other tribunal, the whole thing will have to be heard again. Therefore another bench. That is rather sorry state of affairs. As is aid that is bad court management.”

Bhushan alleged that the arbitration was also a “collusive affair between Reliance and the government”.

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