Court raps Delhi government, power regulator

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

NEW DELHI - The Delhi High Court Tuesday pulled up the Delhi government and the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) over appointment of members of the power regulator, saying it is “not happy with the state of affairs”.

The division bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Manmohan sharply criticised the government and said “we have seen files in English and Urdu also but not a mixed a file like this where pages and notings are not in order”.

The observation came after the bench perused a file relating to the appointment of members of the DERC.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) accusing the government of succumbing to pressure from private power distribution companies (discoms) and “prohibiting the release of a new tariff order approved by DERC” April 29, 2010.

The PIL said the DERC told the government that discoms were sitting on a combined cash profit of over Rs.300 crore per month and it was time to reduce the power rates.

It is the most sorry state and the Delhi government has to play a “pro-active role but the state is lost despite the fact that it has immense powers”, the bench observed.

The court was unhappy over the entire exercise relating to fixing power tariff for the capital and rapped the city government and the DERC for it.

The functioning of the DERC, which is a quasi-judicial body, was not satisfactory, the bench said, adding that the city government should not have interfered with the former’s decision on fixing a new tariff.

The government claimed the selection of DERC members was a complex issue and said: “There could be some problems. However, its functioning is satisfactory.”

In response to the bench’s earlier remark that it would order appointment of a retired judge of the court as DERC chairman, the government said the Supreme Court, in one of its judgments, had ruled out that possibility.

Highlighting the lapses, advocate Prashant Bhusan said: “A large number of file notings have been tampered with and it is a serious issue.”

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for one of the discoms, submitted that the issue of power tariff could be decided at a later stage but the issue of fuel surcharge be decided as it was hurting the power companies.

The court then deferred the matter for further hearing Feb 11.

Earlier, the court had said: “One day one member (of DERC) says something, then changes it and then again takes a U-turn. Then another member changes decision. Then one goes left, the other right. Isn’t there something called a quasi-judicial discipline?.”

The bench had also questioned how the Delhi government asked the DERC not to issue the tariff order until it approved it.

Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati, who has been helping the court in the matter, had earlier said that the state government was not empowered to interfere with a DERC’s decision and could only issue guidelines to it for its consideration.

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