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Probe hurdle in govt’s power post plan

Calcutta, July 8: The Bengal government’s plan to appoint former Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) chairperson R.N. Sen as the chief of the state electricity regulator has hit a roadblock because of Central Vigilance Commission probes against him, sources in the administration said.

The West Bengal State Electricity Regulatory Commission, whose permission is required for power tariff revision, has been virtually ineffective since last September as two of its three decision-making members, including the chairperson, have retired.

Nabanna sources said that as Sen was a former central government employee, the state had to seek the commission’s approval prior to his appointment as West Bengal State Electricity Regulatory Commission chairperson.

According to the sources, the approval could be “delayed substantially” because the vigilance commission was probing complaints lodged against Sen when he was the DVC chairperson.

Power regulatory commission officials said the state government was aware of the complaints against Sen, who retired from the DVC last year, and the possible delay in getting CVC clearance. “Still the government selected him, further delaying the process of filling the vacancy,” an official said.

Asked about the complaints against Sen, a Bengal government official said: “There were allegations of technical and financial irregularities in the DVC during Sen’s tenure. The CVC had sent a report on these alleged irregularities to the Union power ministry in 2012.”

According to the official, the CVC had received “a number” of complaints against Sen on “irregularities in the conceptualisation of the Raghunathpur thermal power plant, import of coal, engagement of advisers and harassment of officials”.

“On account of these complaints, a CVC clearance could be delayed substantially,” the official added.

Sen was not available for comment.

The CVC is an autonomous Union government body created in 1964 to address corruption in the public sector.

Sen was chosen from a list of interested candidates by a selection committee that had as members retired high court judge Amit Talukdar, chief secretary Sanjay Mitra and Central Electricity Authority chairperson Ravinder.

Sen was supposed to receive his appointment letter soon after the Lok Sabha elections.

According to several state government officials, the current dispensation wants the post of the West Bengal State Electricity Regulatory Commission chairperson to be occupied by an official who will not be averse to keeping the administration in the loop when tariffs are revised.

Former Bengal home secretary Prasad Ranjay Ray retired as the chairperson of the power regulator in September last year. The term of another member, Pranab Gupta, ended in 2011 and the government is yet to appoint a replacement. Sujit Dasgupta is the only decision-making member of the regulator now.

“It is extremely difficult to take key decisions on power tariff without at least two members, including the chairperson, at the top. The commission’s work has been suffering for nearly 10 months now,” a power regulator official said.

Both government and private power utilities have to take the regulator’s permission before revising tariff.

“The government’s insistence on appointing Sen could cause further delay, thereby affecting the power sector. Without a fully functional commission, even private players could be eventually affected,” a senior government official said.