Calcutta, Sept. 12: Bengal’s power regulator, which decides the tariffs of state-run and private utilities, has become virtually defunct with the retirement of two of its three decision-making members, one of whose term ended today.
Prasad Ranjan Ray retired today as the chairman of the West Bengal State Electricity Regulatory Commission. The panel now has only one member with the power to take decisions, which means key steps cannot be taken in the absence of a majority.
Writers’ sources said the government was yet to start the selection process of Ray’s successor and that of Pranab Gupta, an engineer who retired in 2011. The process to replace the two members could take two to four months, sources said.
The commission now has retired IAS officer S. Dasgupta as the only member.
“At the top, the regulatory commission has a chairman and two members. The post of one member has been lying vacant for two years. With the chairman retiring now, it will be left to just one member to run the commission till the vacant posts are filled,” an official said.
Dasgupta will remain in office till 2016. But he needs the approval of at least one other member of the commission to take decisions on key matters such as fixing power tariff.
“Although the commission does not technically become defunct if left with just one member, work drastically slows down. There are some decisions such as tariff hike that needs voting. That cannot happen till there is at least one more member,” the official said.
For the selection process, a search committee comprising a retired high court judge, the chief secretary and the chairman of the central regulatory authority needs to be formed.
“Even that first step is yet to be taken. Months will pass between the formation of the search committee and the final selection,” a senior government official said this evening.
The power regulatory commission was constituted by the state under the Electricity Regulatory Commission Act, 1998. It started functioning in 1999.
The commission determines the tariff for electricity and the use of transmission facilities. It also regulates the power purchase and procurement process of the transmission and distribution utilities.
The top three commission posts are ex-officio — given to retired senior government officials — for five years or till the age of 65, whichever is earlier.
According to the sources, the state government had “considered” replacing retired IAS officer Ray in early 2012 after the commission ruled in favour of hiking power tariff in December 2011.
“The chief minister was then averse to the idea of increasing power tariff but was forced to accept the decision. There were talks of finding a replacement for Ray. But the commission is a constitutional body and the state government does not have the power to replace the chairman,” an official said.
The task of initiating the selection process for Ray’s successor, which should have begun months ago, and that of filling up the vacancy after Gupta retired are yet to be undertaken.
“There is no conspiracy.… Gupta’s case (the post not being filled up even after two years of his retirement) was largely an oversight. That of Ray is more about the government dragging its feet. The selection process will begin soon, we are told,” a Writers’ source said.