The appointment of a serving IAS officer as a member of the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) has raised questions of “conflict of interest” in litigation related to the government. Former office-bearers of MERC told The Indian Express that if any member of the regulatory body was on the payroll of the state government, there would be a conflict of interest while passing judgments in cases pertaining to the state government.
On June 5, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis appointed retired District Judge Iqbal Bohari and 1985-batch IAS officer Mukesh Khullar as members of the regulatory body. While traditionally retired IAS officers have held the positions at the MERC, Khullar decided to continue to be on the state government’s payroll till his retirement in February 2019. “While there is no rule that it is a retirement post, an official is deemed to be retired upon taking charge in any autonomous regulatory authority. It is not fair as the MERC deals with litigation against the government. There is a clear conflict of interest,” said a former MERC official.
Pratap Hogade, convenor of a state-wide consumer’s association, said that it was unfair to those appealing to the commission for various litigations against the government.
Khullar told The Indian Express that there was no conflict of interest as orders can be passed, on merit, against the government. “Judges, for instance, stay on government quarters but they do rule against the government. However, since these questions are arising, I am considering taking a voluntary retirement,” said Khullar.
The MERC is headed by chairperson Anand Kulkarni and the positions of the two members were vacant since May after the retirement of senior members Deepak Lad and Aziz Khan.
Following Khan’s retirement, the energy department had called for applications. However, the appointment was delayed after a bench of Justice J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul of the Supreme Court ordered all states to appoint a judiciary member to their electricity regulatory commissions in April. “It is mandatory that there should be a person of law as a Member of the Commission, which requires a person, who is, or has been holding a judicial office or is a person possessing professional qualifications with substantial experience in the practice of law, who has the requisite qualifications to have been appointed as a Judge of the High Court or a District Judge,” said the bench.
Thereafter, fresh applications were called for a judicial member. Khullar was appointed after Lad, a technical expert, retired.
Another former MERC member pointed out that at present there was no member in the Commission who was a technical expert. The Electricity Act also suggests that the commission should have a technical expert among the members. Earlier, Lad who was a director with the state electricity distribution company, served as the expert.
State energy secretary Arvind Singh, who also headed the scrutiny committee, said, “We have made the appointments based on the Supreme Court order and both appointments have been made keeping the legal requirements in mind. The Electricity Act says that members should have knowledge of Commerce and Energy sector and the appointees meet these requirements.”