NATIONAL

Too late to order probe into Dabhol project: SC

Closed chapter:A view of the Dabhol Power plant.File photo

Closed chapter:A view of the Dabhol Power plant.File photo  

Says fresh inquiry commission will serve no purpose

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it is quarter of a century too late to order a judicial inquiry into the “serious infirmities” detected in the Enron-promoted Dabhol power project in Maharashtra.

The judgment thus “closed” a petition filed by the Centre for Indian Trade Union (CITU) against a Bombay High Court decision. The High Court had concluded that though the actions of public officials and governments were “questionable”, there was no material to justify allegations of corruption, bribery and fraud involving politicians and top bureaucrats in setting up the power plant.

Godbole panel

Thursday's closure of the case by the Supreme Court came despite the Maharashtra government-appointed Dr. Madhav Godbole Committee’s findings in 2001 that there was foul play involved in the project. The Committee had said “everything was done in a manner which helped Dabhol Power Corporation and caused loss to the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) and the public at large.”

The Supreme Court reproduced excerpts of the Godbole report, which had “everything wrong” about the project, from the execution of its first Power Project Agreement (PPA) in 1993 to the manner in which negotiations were held to fixing of tariffs.

Nevertheless, the court said too much water has already flown under the bridge. Enron itself has abandoned the project. The plant is working at half capacity. The rate of production of electricity is so high that the project has become economically unviable.

“We are of the considered view that though normally in such a case a judicial inquiry should have been conducted, but as far as the present case is concerned, more than a quarter of century has elapsed since the first PPA was executed. The foreign corporation and the original project proponents are no longer available. Most of the senior officials would have retired and virtually no action can be taken against them,” Justice Gupta, who authored the judgment, observed.

‘No useful purpose’

Justice Gupta wrote, constituting a fresh inquiry commission into the project would serve no “useful purpose” now.

The court’s refusal came despite submissions made by its own amicus curiae and senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan that an inquiry should indeed be ordered in the interest of justice, considering the “serious allegations of corruption and abdication of duties by various authorities and officials.”

To this, the Supreme Court pointed out that there was a difference of opinion within the Godbole Committee itself back in 2001. Some of the panel members saw no point in ordering a judicial inquiry in 2001.

“This was the stand in the year 2001 and has greater force 18 years later. In view of the long delay and in view of the fact that due to non-availability of many persons involved, no useful purpose would be served in continuing with the judicial commission of inquiry, we close the petition in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case,” the Supreme Court concluded.

Incidentally, an earlier judicial inquiry under Justice S.P. Kurdukar in 2001 was stayed by the Supreme Court on the basis of a suit filed by the Centre. In 2015, efforts were made again to resume the inquiry, but to no avail.

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