CERC Lockdown Extended to Jan 20, 2021 By Peeved Supreme Court

At the latest hearing of the saga around the shutdown of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), the tussle between lawmakers and the law dispensers continued afresh. The Supreme Court, coming down harshly on yet another missed deadline by the government, when it comes to the appointment of an officer of the law as ordered, allowed the lockdown of the key regulator to be extended to January 20. A date by which the government lawyer has yet again, assured the court that the appointment will be completed.

At the moment, it seems the process has reached the appointments committee of the Cabinet (ACC). Observers would certainly have been surprised to see just how far and to the detriment of everyone’s reputation and the power sector, the issue has been allowed to be prolonged. From a government that clearly thought it could brazen it out initially, to a court that has in exasperation, seen it fit to refuse any concessions whatsoever other than a date of their picking.

The court did give an exemption to the government on an affidavit it had demanded, on the issue of reserved judgments lying with the Commission, that were sought to be allowed to be pronounced.

The whole CERC issue, which came to the fore when the petitioner claimed that directions of this Court were sought to be breached on account of appointments made to the Central Commission on 21.01.2019 and thereafter on 07.04.2020 without appointing a member from the law. The Contempt Petition was thus listed before the SC on 27.07.2020 when the judges in principle agreed with the plea. On August 28, in the first signs of unhappiness at seeing a tardy response to their order, they asked the existing CERC members to proceed on leave till a member of law was appointed. And now, as we look to the end of January 2021 for a final resolution, one has to ask the question, just what message does this send about ease of doing business in India? For the power sector, racked as it is by discom losses, and as a major beneficiary of government relief due to the Covid pandemic, the continued lockdown and its impact on quick dispute resolution has probably laid grounds for delays all the way down the line.

The court in its defense, has made it clear that it has put its foot down for a larger issue. To quote, ” In view of the submission that is emphasised, there are many Tribunals which are non-functional or hardly functional because vacancies have been left un-filled. This is the larger issue which the Government must examine as when it creates Tribunals, vacancies must be filled in time anticipating even the future vacancies. This has not happened. There are Tribunals even more important than the Tribunal in question in terms of their remits, where such a situation prevails. We thus see no reason why a different scenario has to prevail for the Tribunal in question, especially because the process as envisaged under our judgment has not been followed.”

Let’s hope 2021 will bring better tidings for what seems to have been a completely avoidable fracas.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International

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