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Tariff fixation: Madras High Court restrains TNERC from passing final orders on tariff petitions filed by TANGEDCO/TANTRANSCO/SLDC till legal member is appointed to the Commission

August 24, 2022 10:44 pm | Updated 10:44 pm IST - MADURAI

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has restrained the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC) from passing final order on the tariff petitions filed by TANGEDCO/TANTRANSCO/SLDC till a legal member is appointed to the Commission.

Justice G.R. Swaminathan observed that the present proceedings could go on and everything can be finalised by the Commission as now constituted except the formal declaration of the orders on the tariff petitions.

The moment the appointment of the legal member was notified, the Commission was free to formally dispose of the tariff petitions. The restraint order of the court would operate till then and not a moment thereafter, the judge said.

As per the Act, the Commission shall consist of not more than three members, including the Chairperson. Public hearings were being conducted at various places with regard to the tariff fixation. It is chaired by Chairperson M. Chandrasekar and member K. Venkatesan.

The court was hearing a batch of petitions. The petitioners sought a direction to forbear the Commission from holding hearings on petitions filed or pending before it till a legal member was appointed to the Commission.

The Senior Counsel and Counsel representing the petitioners submitted that without there being a legal member of the Commission, it cannot hold its sittings. The task of tariff fixation is adjudicatory and therefore, it is mandatory that a member having legal expertise is on the Bench. Since at present, there is no such member, the Bench lacked jurisdiction to hear the tariff petitions filed by TANGEDCO/TANTRANSCO/SLDC. The petitioners said that the Commission was hurriedly hearing the matter to revise and refix the tariffs.

The Senior Counsel representing the State and the TNERC submitted that the function of tariff fixation is purely regulatory and not adjudicatory. Therefore, it is not necessary that a person with a legal background should sit on the Bench to hear the petitions. The statutory scheme enables the stakeholders to offer their objections/suggestions. The petitioners can avail the opportunity and place their case during the public hearings, it was submitted.

Without doing so, they have prematurely rushed to the court. For the last several years, the exercise of tariff fixation had not been undertaken. It is long overdue and any delay would have calamitous consequences on public interest, it was submitted.

Justice Swaminathan observed that the Supreme Court had expressed its anguish on more than one occasion when the legal member vacancy was not filled up. When it has been declared that it is mandatory that there should be a legal member in the Commission, the State Government has no justification in not filling up the same.

The technical member resigned in March. The law member retired in May. Nothing stopped the government from filling up both the vacancies simultaneously. When the Supreme Court has made it clear that there must be a member with legal background in the Commission, it cannot be ignored, the judge said.

The writ petitions were disposed of. Since the petitioners had approached the court without offering their suggestions or objections before the Commission, the petitioners were given a week's time to place their objections/suggestions before the Commission.

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