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RIL versus RNRL or MDA versus ADA? In deciphering the distinction between the two lies the key to resolving the most high-pitched corporate battle of the day.

Rohit Saran | Print Edition: August 23, 2009

RIL versus RNRL or MDA versus ADA? In deciphering the distinction between the two lies the key to resolving the most high-pitched corporate battle of the day. But doing so demands a very high degree of information access (since the fight is both overt and covert), comfort with legal matters (as matters are perpetually in court) and ability to tell truth from half-truths (because interpretations and misinterpretations are flying thick and fast).

In putting together this issue's cover story, we have tried our best to come good on all the three counts. The proof of the extent to which we have succeeded lies ahead.

The latest outbreak between the feuding Ambani brothers has implications well beyond a couple of billion dollars between the brothers. The way this conflict is resolved will determine where the boundaries of a family settlement (MDA versus ADA) end and that of a corporate settlement (RIL versus RNRL) begin. The core of the issue is whether the memorandum of understanding signed between Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani in mid-2005 can include assets the ownership of which lies outside the family and profit generated from which is to be shared with partners outside the family.

Complicating the issue further is the special nature of one of these partners and the asset owner, namely the Government of India. The government cannot be seen as a party to either undervaluation of its asset or unilateral distribution of that asset. So far the law has unequivocally been in support of Anil Ambani, with the Bombay High Court ruling that the family agreement has to be respected in the sale of gas by RIL to RNRL.

But in a business as dynamic as oil & gas-the added complication being that some agreements in question date at least five years before the split between the two brothers-the last word hasn't been heard yet. As we went to press on August 3 (48 hours later than the normal schedule), the government had stated its position in Parliament and all the three parties (including the government) were bracing for a fight in the Supreme Court. Our cover story is the most comprehensive inside account of the saga so far-complete with some never before published details.

Our fare of exciting stories doesn't end with the Ambani brothers. Bill Gates tells us why Microsoft (where he now spends only one day a week) is still all about the magic of paid software-dismissing the threat of free software from Google. Find out why Keki Gharda is fighting his family to let him give away his Rs 3,000-crore business to charity. We will also tell you how Dutch engineers can make the ubiquitous autorickshaw eco-friendly.

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