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Amicus Populi? A public interest review of the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity

Author(s): Saumya Vaishnava, Ashwini Chitnis, Shantanu Dixit Publication Date: October, 2018

Electricity Regulatory Commissions (ERCs) are the cornerstone of the power sector reforms. Many of the key sector decisions are made through the regulatory processes and the ERCs play the crucial role of balancing the interests of various stakeholders. The accountability of the ERCs is ensured through, a) the public nature of their functioning as they are required to hold public consultations on many issues, b) the mandate to record their decisions in the form of reasoned orders, and c) their orders being subject to judicial review and appeals before a specialised tribunal viz. the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (APTEL). Hence, the role of the APTEL becomes crucial in terms of holding the ERCs accountable for their role and mandate, ensuring good governance in the sector and in protecting the interests of consumers and citizens.

In this context, this report takes a first step towards providing information regarding the functioning of the APTEL from a public interest perspective. The findings presented are based on the analysis of 852 judgements issued by the APTEL between April 2013 and March 2017. The report looks at aspects such as the nature of appeals, the type of appellants, the kind of issues raised and geographic spread of appeals. While it is the responsibility of the APTEL to balance the interests of the consumers and the utilities, the analysis indicates that there is very little representation of small consumers and the public interest in the proceedings before it. This is mainly due to prohibitively high fees and the challenges in approaching the APTEL as it is located in Delhi and has non-operational circuit benches. The report also provides suggestions to address these lacunae, such as reduction in fees, appointments of ‘amicus curiae’ to more frequently represent interests of small consumers, effective operationalisation of circuit benches, periodical publication of a compendium of ATPEL judgements and emerging case law, etc.

Given its broad mandate and wide ranging powers, the report argues that the APTEL should strive to be an “amicus populi”, i.e. a friend of the people, and not just an adjudicatory forum, which caters to the needs of the few who can afford access to it.

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