The government on Friday urged the Supreme Court to remove Peter Leaver QC, the arbitrator appointed by private explorers Reliance Industries (RIL) and BG Exploration and Production India, in the ongoing row over reimbursement of royalties and taxes in the Panna, Mukta and Tapti (PMT) gas fields.
The government has cited “lack of impartiality and independence” to seek removal of the UK-based Leaver from the arbitration.
Alleging that Leaver from day one has made it evident by his conduct that his duty was to protect the interests of the private companies in all the circumstances, the government said the members of the arbitral tribunal are under obligation to act fairly and honestly and not as the parties’ representative by reason of having being nominated by a particular party.
It apprehended the arbitration proceedings being conducted in unfair and biased manner “would affect the outcome of the proceedings”. At present, the arbitral tribunal consists of Christopher Lau SC (the chairman), Peter Leaver QC (nominee arbitrator for RIL and BG) and former SC judge S Sudershan Reddy (nominee arbitrator of the government).
According to the government, it acted with utmost restraint with the expectation that Leaver “would eventually realise the call of his duties as a member of the tribunal and would mend his ways”, but he continued with bias towards RIL and BG and continued “his persistent efforts to harass and humilate” its counsel without any justification.
In December 2012, the government wrote thrice to the tribunal raising its apprehensions, but there has been no response so far, it alleged.
A Bench headed by justice Dipak Misra said that a “pure question of law” had been raised and required consideration and posted the matter for further hearing on Wednesday. It also observed that “it’s better to deliver another judgment to clear the mess in this country.”
Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Shyam Divan, appearing for the companies, told the court that the government’s plea was a “gross abuse of process” as the apex court had already directed that the arbitration be held in London and the government’s review and curative petition have already been dismissed by the SC.
In May 2014, the apex court while allowing a plea by RIL and partner BG had held that only British courts had the jurisdiction over the arbitration between the company and the oil ministry over the companies demand for reimbursement of royalties and taxes in the PMT gas fields.