Despite a growing pile of undecided cases, the government appears in no hurry to equip the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (Aptel) with sufficient strength to adjudicate on matters pending before it.
While the government is yet to appoint a technical member to replace Rakesh Nath, who superannuated on May 20, the other technical member T Munikrishnaiah is on leave due to a medical condition. Without at least one member with technical expertise in electricity sector, Aptel can’t sit and hear appeals pending before it. The situation, incidentally, has arisen at a time when several high-profile cases including the appeals filed by Tata Power and Adani Power on the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission’s (CERC) orders on “compensatory tariffs” need to be disposed of by the tribunal with a sense of urgency.
“The process of identifying a new member should ideally start before a post falls vacant. However, in Aptel’s case, this has not been the case for quite some time,” Sakya Singha Chaudhuri, partner, HSA Advocates, told FE. He recalled that Munikrishnaiah had also been appointed after a delay of six months, resulting in waste of precious court time.
Though the government had issued a vacancy circular for the technical member in December last year, it has not been able to shortlist a candidate for the post till date. As per the fresh dates for hearing allotted to different matters, the court could lose 45 working days. Aptel is supposed to have five members. Besides two retired judges as judicial members and two experts in the power sector as technical members, it is supposed to be manned by an expert in petroleum and natural gas.
Since it resumed work after a month of vacation on July 1, the tribunal has been assigning dates for hearing matters in the second half of August saying “the court has not assembled”. As many as 15 tariff-related appeals usually come up before the tribunal at this time of the year.
Although the government had indicated that a decision on the vacant technical member post would be finalised before the court opened earlier this month, the tribunal has not received any intimation in this regard, an Aptel official told FE. “The parties do have an option of approaching the high courts for urgent orders, but a high court is not equipped with technical members who can be consulted by the judicial members for passing orders. The lack of manpower at the tribunal is defeating the purpose of the body,” Chaudhuri added.
If Aptel’s performance is to be judged on the basis of cases filed in a year that could not be decided on in the same year, it has turned worse since 2012 (see chart).