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Supreme Court turns down govt plea; CERC operations not likely to begin soon


New Delhi: The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) is likely to remain non-functional for at least one more month as the Supreme Court on Friday reiterated that the newly appointed members of the power regulator should continue to be on leave till a member law is appointed, sources said.

Meanwhile, the sources in the government said it has shortlisted the suitable candidates but the regulatory approvals may take time.

The commission has been non-functional since August 28 as the apex court had asked two members of CERC to go on leave till the time a member-law is appointed. The contempt petition was filed by K K Agarwal and Advocate Ravi Sharma argued on behalf of the petitioner.

The selected candidates will require various clearances, character verifications and antecedents before the recommendations are sent to the power ministry and finally to the Appointments Committee of Cabinet.

“This is a time taking process and normally the appointment process for any position in the government starts six months before a vacancy arises. The selection committee started the process on August 1 and completed its task. However, the other formalities may take a minimum of one to one-and-half months,” a person aware of the development said.

On Friday, the Supreme Court turned down the government’s plea seeking reinstatement of member technical in CERC to begin operations.

“The Central government couldn’t finalise the candidate for member law as on date and in today’s hearing, they tried to re-agitate the whole issue which were argued in length earlier. Court has taken a firm view that sanctity of their order dated April 2018 shall be maintained and dismissed the prayers of the Central government to allow technical member to resume office with the observation that government has not only failed to appoint Members in Electricity tribunals but also failed to appoint members in other tribunals in this country in due time,” Sharma said.

The court has directed that the order dated August 28, 2020 shall be continued till the time the government appoints Member Law in CERC irrespective of time, he added.

CERC took about 130-140 hearings each in July and August while the number of petitions received are higher. Due to suspension of operations, all new and partly- heard hearings have got delayed. Also impacted are cases where hearings have been completed and ‘orders reserved’. The commission had recently issued discussion papers on compensation to thermal plants for emission control equipment, compilation of coal price index and market regulations.

The Supreme Court had on August 28 asked two members of CERC to go on leave till the time a member-law is appointed. This left the regulator with just chairperson P K Pujari while the quorum for hearings is two members besides chair.

The two members I S Jha, former Power Grid Corp chairman, and Arun Goyal, ex-bureaucrat, can join only after a member-law is appointed by the government. Jha took over as member CERC in January 2019 and Goyal was appointed on April 7 this year.

The Central government had taken an opinion from the attorney general while filling up the two positions before appointment of member-law. The attorney general had opined that Section 77 1 (a) of the Electricity Act, which provides for appointment of member engineering, and Section 77 1 (b) related to appointment of member-finance should be complied with as and when vacancies arise.

The Supreme Court had on April 14, 2018 directed state electricity commissions to appoint a member from the field of law with qualifications of a high court or district judge. The order mandated that the next vacancy in state commissions be filled up by a person with judicial background.

The power ministry had in April 2019 and October 2019 advertised job vacancy for member-law in CERC. However, the selection committee could not find candidates suitable to fill up the position and the process was shelved.

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