Consumers Need to Play an Important Role in the Regulatory Process, say Sunil Mitra

New Delhi, March 13, 2008

Consumers demanded public hearings by the West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission, which were stopped few years ago.

This demand was raised at the Launch Meeting of a Regional Electricity Reforms Project launched by CUTS International, a leading research and advocacy group here today. The project aims to build capacity of civil society groups in Bangladesh, Nepal and India (West Bengal and Rajasthan) to be able to intervene effectively in power sector reforms. It is being supported by the Government of Norway.

“Consumers and CSO need to play an important role in regulatory process. However, at present consumer participation is weak in regulatory decision making process” said Mr Sunil Mitra, Principal Secretary, Department of Power, Govt. of West Bengal at the opening session.

Speaking on the occasion as chief guest, Mitra observed that the Electricity Act, 2003 has also brought up clearly the role to be played by regulatory commissions. Added to this the utilities have to follow quality standards as set by regulatory commissions.

Mitra also laid stress on the capacity building of the power sector. However the public corporations would continue to exists due to large financial requirements. He also said that the power sector reforms would need to focus on issues like Public Private Partnership to attract private investment.

“The project aims to build the capacity of consumers and CSOs to enable them to intervene in the electricity regulatory process” said the CUTS Secretary General, Pradeep S Mehta in welcoming the guests. “The project will definitely create an impact in having a better regulatory electricity framework in West Bengal and other territories in terms of participation and advocacy”.

Mehta also mentioned that since 1998, CUTS has been working on power sector reforms with the support of Frederich Ebert Foundation in Rajasthan, which helped to build the capacity of consumers on issues relating to power. This experience is being brought into the new and larger project.

Mitra responded that this project will complement the whole work that is being done by the state government; it will supplement to the tasks and also help the state owned utilities to do better in the near future and the focus is to ensure that the end users should be benefited.

“The content of the project is in line with NORAD’s aims i.e. to build the capacity of civil society” said Mr N F Tankariwala, Hon. Consul General of Norway, Kolkata. He underscored the work and cooperation with CUTS and NORAD being undertaken all over the developing world. He also said that the support for civil society from NORAD varies across countries but they get continued support.

Tankariwala hoped that this project improves consumer participation, to enhance the regulatory structure in India, Nepal and Bangladesh and this project should strengthen the capacity of CSOs in regulatory process in electricity reforms. It should also create a vertical mechanism between the people and policymakers and vice versa along with horizontal linking among different players.

“There should be long term capacity building of CSOs on regulatory issues, so that they could act as an agent of change”, said Tankariwala.

Mr A K Basu, Member, State Planning Board of West Bengal and former Chairman of Central Electricity Regulatory Commission threw light on the overall power scenario in South Asia. Basu added that by 2012, if we in India want to achieve an installed capacity of two lac megawatts, we would need an investment of US$200bn. Majority of this would come from public funding but we need private investment.

“If private investment is required, then we need sound legal framework, government framework and a regulatory framework” said Basu. “Therefore it is important for effective consumer participation in the regulatory regime”.

He noted that Pakistan has an efficient regulatory framework. However, the kind of progress that India has made, other project countries have not achieved that much. Basu also spoke about power theft and said that it is the responsibility of consumers to overcome this problem.

The opening session was followed by presentations on the project and the power sector scenario in Nepal, Bangladesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal in India.