x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Indian oil minister dragged into family feud over gas prices

International Anil Ambani called on Murli Deora to back a proposal to bring the dispute between the two brothers to a quick conclusion.

MUMBAI // The Indian billionaire Anil Ambani, embroiled in a bitter legal dispute with his brother Mukesh, has challenged the country's oil minister to prove that he is not biased in favour of Mukesh's company, Reliance Industries (RIL). Anil Ambani called on Murli Deora to back a proposal to bring the dispute between the two brothers to a quick conclusion. He said lawyers from his Reliance Natural Resources (RNRL) company would ask the supreme court today to bring the start of the final hearing in the case forward to September 1, the same day as the preliminary hearing, to prevent Reliance Industries from stalling a result. Anil Ambani said: "RNRL hopes that they would also agree to our request for an expeditious final hearing of the matter and will not be misguided by RIL, who we believe only want to delay the matter indefinitely to the detriment of public interest." On Tuesday, Anil Ambani made an unprecedented move for an Indian businessman, launching a stinging public attack and accusing Mr Deora of blatantly supporting RIL. "I am deeply dismayed by this apparently partisan and biased approach," he said. The two brothers have been waging a court battle for more than a year over a contract between their companies, which would require RIL to sell 28 million cubic metres of gas a day to RNRL over 17 years at a price of $2.34 per million British thermal units. This is 44 per cent lower than the price the government has set for RIL's other customers. In June, the Bombay High Court ruled that RIL should honour the contract. RIL then appealed to the supreme court in Delhi. The battle is an extension of a feud that began long before the two split Reliance Industries in 2005. On July 18, the petroleum ministry filed a petition with the supreme court asking it to declare the contract between RIL and RNRL null and void. Anil Ambani dismissed this argument on Tuesday, saying it had been made to help RIL's case. "This bogey of sovereign ownership is being raised with the sole purpose of attempting to bail out RIL and help them renege," he said. Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst at Delhi University, said that Anil Ambani's attack on Mr Deora was a high-stakes play. "In a developing country, you can't take on the government, especially when broadly most other industrialists support it." business@thenational.ae