Gas regulator dragged to court over CGD authorisation

Vol 12, PW 25 (21 May 09) People & Policy

Voice of India is a barely known organisation – one of many NGOs that have mushroomed in Delhi over the past few years.

But it made a splash last month by dragging the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board, its chairman Labanyendu Mansingh and member technical BS Negi to the Delhi High Court with serious personal allegations over the functioning of the Board. Normally, such allegations would not have merited attention, as they come from an organisation unaffected by the Board’s actions.

But lending celebrity value to the case is well-known Supreme Court lawyer and civil rights activist Prashant Bhushan, representing Voice of India. In its petition, the NGO describes a Board decision in early April to grant GAIL Gas and Bhagyanagar Gas â€کauthorisation’ to operate retail gas networks in five towns as “illegalâ€‌ – alleging it has no powers to do so under the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board Act, 2006.

According to Voice of India, Section 16 of the Act, which gives the Board powers to authorise â€کentities’ to “lay, build, operate or expand city or local natural gas distribution networksâ€‌, has been excluded by the government from the Act. “Therefore, the power of the Board to grant authorisation itself has not come into force and thus any such authorisation has no legal sanctity,â€‌ says the NGO in its petition.

When the case was last heard on May 13, the Board responded by telling the court that it can function in the absence of Section 16 from the Act, but that it would certainly welcome the insertion of Section 16 in the Act. But the court asked government lawyers for an affidavit on the next date of the case (May 20) explaining why Section 16 has been kept out of the Act.

Among other things, Voice of India wants the court to direct the Board to “immediately quashâ€‌ all authorisations that it has issued allowing CGD networks to be set up and even natural gas pipelines.