New Delhi's chief minister targets India's richest man Mukesh Ambani

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 11:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 8:51am

Delhi's chief minister has ordered criminal cases be filed against India's richest man, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, and government policymakers for conniving to fix higher gas prices to boost profits.

Arvind Kejriwal sent shockwaves through the Indian political system in December when his Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party won the Delhi state election with promises to fight graft and the vested interests blighting the country.

Kejriwal has long had Ambani in his sights, having accused him of buying government favour.

The case being brought against the tycoon relates to gas produced from the Reliance-operated D6 block on India's east coast. Kejriwal said Ambani's company had created an artificial shortage to "blackmail" the government in to setting higher prices.

"We believe that high prices are being caused by corruption," Kejriwal told a news conference yesterday, speaking in Hindi.

A Reliance spokesman declined to comment.

Kejriwal's move came amid a heated political atmosphere, with a general election due by May.

Leading a party formed just a year earlier, Kejriwal's victory in Delhi had stunned both the ruling Congress party and opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is ahead in opinion polls as the public grows disillusioned with Congress, leader of the ruling coalition, over a series of corruption scandals and a slowing economy. Although it is unlikely to win, the Aam Aadmi Party could draw votes away from both parties.

Kejriwal said Reliance had agreed in 2005 to supply gas to utility NTPC at about US$2.3 per million British thermal units for about 17 years. The price of gas from D6 was fixed at US$4.2 per million British thermal units in 2007, when Murli Deora was oil minister in the Congress-led government.

Last year, after Veerappa Moily took over as oil minister, the federal government agreed to link prices to global indices, which could double local gas prices from April 1 this year.

Kejriwal said he had acted after receiving four complaints.

Ambani is the nation's richest man, with an empire than ranges from energy to mobile phones and media channels.