INDIA. Mumbai: The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court on Tuesday set aside the appointment of the former member of the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC), as an Electricity Ombudsman (Vidyut Lokpal) for Nagpur, terming it as in violation of the regulations.
Dealing with a writ petition (No. 8400/2019) a bench comprising Justices A S Chandurkar and M S Jawalkar, ruled that the appointment of ex-MERC member Deepak Lad as the Electricity Ombudsman was contrary to rule 13 of the MERC (Consumer Grievances Redressal Forum and Electricity Ombudsman) Regulations, 2006 and provisions of the Electricity Act, 2003.
The petition was filed by Amol Prabhakar Joshi in which the MERC and Deepak Lad were made the respondents. In his petition, Joshi stated that the MERC had released an advertisement on December 21, 2018, inviting applications to fill the post of the Electricity Ombudsman (Nagpur).
The applications were invited from retired Judge of the High Court, retired Secretary to the Government, and retired Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Electricity Utilities. The lad was appointed as Vidyut Lokpal on March 22, 2019, although he did not possess the prescribed qualifications for the post.
It was stated by the counsel for Lad, that he had been a member of the MERC (from August-2014 to May-2018) and that post was equivalent to that of the Principal Secretary, Government of Maharashtra. Besides, as per the Maharashtra Government’s resolution (Energy dept) dated June 01, 2000, the post of Member of the MERC was equivalent to the post of Principal Secretary.
However, the petitioner argued that it was only the qualifications prescribed by the Regulations of 2006 that were applicable for applying for the post and the criteria of equivalence claimed by the respondent Lad cannot be held valid. Also, the advertisement inviting applications did not indicate that persons holding equivalent qualifications were eligible to apply for the post.
Speaking to the Transcontinental Times, the Maharashtra Veej Grahak Sanghatna (Maharashtra Power Consumers’ Association), President Pratap Hogade, hailed the decision of the Bombay high court and said that in any case, the appointment of Lad violated the earlier Supreme Court guidelines.
The irregularities in the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (Mahavitaran) can be better exposed only by the dedicated high court judges and not by former MERC members.
When Justice Rohi was functioning as a Vidyut Lokpal he had brought to the fore many corrupt deals like unauthorized waiver of tariff etc. But later the MERC amended the rules in such a way that no retired judge could be appointed as a Lokpal, Hogade said.
“The high court judges retire at the age of 62 years. When appointed as Lokpal, they can continue till the age of 68 years (first term of 3 years with two years’ extension). However, the MERC in September 2020, curtailed this age limit to 65 years thus automatically blocking the way the high court judges get appointed as the Lokpal.”
“The posts of Lokpal fall vacant at different dates. By the time the post is advertised, a judge would be age-barred. In amending the rules, the MERC has also ensured that the Mahavitaran officers, who retire at the age of 58 years, would be eligible for the post,” Hogade said.
Earlier MERC had rapped Mahavitaran’s former Director (Operations) Abhijit Deshpande for alleged irregularities during his tenure. However, the same person was appointed as a secretary of the MERC, by Anand Kulkarni soon after he took over as the MERC Chairman.
As such the government should avoid appointing Mahavitaran officers on the MERC because it amounts to a continuation of what they were already doing in Mahavitaran.
After all the MERC is a regulatory body looking after tariffs and other issues and also serves as a watchdog to ensure justice to the power consumers, Hogade added.