At a time when even the Supreme Court is mulling live streaming of its proceedings to ushering greater transparency, a quasi-judicial body from Maharashtra has taken several steps backwards to not only stop audio-video recording of its proceedings but also destroy the recording done over the many years.
In a resolution on September 4, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC), which adjudicates on all matters concerning electricity, has said that there will, hencefourth, be no audio-video recording of the Commissions hearing and even the old recording preserved by the Commission will be destroyed. It also announced that no recordings would be made available to anyone henceforth. While many activists and representatives of stakeholder organizations have denounced the move.
Further, apprehending that some people might move the High Court against the move, MERC also filled a caveat before the NAGPUR bench and has also issued notices to some of them warning that MERC must be kept in the loop before moving any petition. “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,” Hogade said. “A-V recordings have proved to be always useful in case of disputes as no further proof is required to prove the exact fact,” Hogade said.
A representative of a consumer organisation also condemned the move on condition of anonymity. “The commission have no reason for why it has done when it announced the move on its website. But later MERC Chairman Anand Kulkarni told a newspaper that cost-cutting was the reason,” he said.
One of the consumer organisations, the Vidarbha Industries Association, had also written a letter to the Commission protesting the new move. “The resolution will adversely affect the transparency in MERC hearings. The recordings have been going on since MERC was formed. The Electricity Act section 86(3) mandates transparency in the Commission while exercising its power and discharging its function.,” the letter by its president Atul Pande has said, calling for withdrawal of the resolution
When contracted, Kulkarni said, “please talk to our Judicial Member Iqubal Bohari.” Bohari, who had retired as Principal Judge of Family Court here before joining MERC in May, justified the move saying, “recording was being done as there were not enough stenographers earlier with the Commission. Now we have five. So, they can record everything. Further, there is system of destroying previous record in all government establishments.” He added: “Maharashtra’s was the only electricity commission doing A-V recordings.”
Asked about the cost-cutting excuse, he said, “every recording costs about Rs 5,000. That’s why the unnecessary expenditure needed to be curbed.” Hogade counters: “The commission is flush with funds. It had about Rs 200-300 crore in its kitty. And to say that we shouldn’t have a good system because no other state had is simply ridiculous. To say that stenographers have nullified the need to have A-V recordings is like saying CCTV cameras are not required as there are enough policemen.”
Asked why some of the consumer representative organisations were served with caveat notices, Bohari said, “just to inform them that if they plan to move court, they should keep us informed. It’s done as per the provisions of caveat filling.” Meanwhile, ever since the disputed resolution was adopted, all hearings are currently being recorded manually.