At a time when even the Supreme Court is mulling live streaming of its proceedings to usher in greater transparency, a quasi-judicial body from Maharashtra has decided to not only stop audio visual recording of its proceedings but also destroy the past recordings.
In a resolution on September 4, the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC), which adjudicates on all matters concerning electricity, has said that there will, henceforth, be no audio visual recording of the commission’s hearings and even the old recordings would be destroyed. It further announced that no recordings would be made available to anyone henceforth. At present, all hearings are being recorded manually.
With many activists and representatives of stakeholder organisations denouncing the move, the MERC has filled a caveat before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court and also issued notices to some, warning that the commission must be kept in loop before any petition is moved in court.
“This is a blatant attempt to make a transparent system opaque,” said Pratap Hogade, president of Maharashtra Veej Grahak Sanghatan and a member of MERC’s state advisory committee. “Transparency is the buzzword in today’s times. Legislatures and Parliament also do live streaming of their proceedings. Even the SC has said that it is thinking of doing live streaming of its proceedings. But here, the commission has taken a retrograde step to kill transparency… AV recordings have proved to be always useful in case of disputes, as no further proof is required to prove a fact,” he added.
A consumer organisation, the Vidarbha Industries Association, has written to the commission calling for the withdrawal of the decision. “The resolution will adversely affect the transparency in MERC hearings. Recordings have been made since MERC was formed. Electricity Act’s section 86(3) mandates transparency in the commission while exercising its power and discharging its function,” its president Atul Pande has written.
A representative of a consumer organisation said: “There is no reason for the commission to do this. But MERC Chairman Anand Kulkarni has told a newspaper that cost-cutting is behind the decision.” When contacted, Kulkarni said, “Please speak to our judicial member Iqubal Bohari.”
Bohari, who has retired as the principal judge of family court here before joining MERC in May, justified the move. “Recording was being done as there were not enough stenographers with the commission earlier. Now, we have five. So, they can record everything. Further, there is system of destroying previous record in all government establishments… Maharashtra has the only electricity commission doing A-V recordings.”