CSOs should work together to make utilities and regulatory commissions accountable: Shantanu Dixit
Kolkata, March 14, 2008

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) should not be emotive towards ignorance meted to them by regulators rather they should work to facilitate effective channel of communication between regulator and themselves to ensure effective consumer participation in the regulatory processes. The public participation spaces offered by changes in the electricity sector should be used effectively to make utilities and regulatory agencies accountable to consumers. This view was expressed by Shantanu Dixit from Prayas Energy Group, a Pune based NGO, at a training seminar organised by CUTS International during the launch of a project, titled “A pilot project on capacity building on electricity reforms in Bangladesh, India and Nepal (Resa project)”.

Presenting ‘Electricity Regulation in Maharashtra’ as a case study, he added that in many cases, the regulatory bodies were reluctant to engage consumers in the regulatory decision-making process. For example, at an initial stage, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) started to consult only the utilities while ignoring the consumers. Ultimately MERC had to given in and convene open consultations with consumers at large due to continuous and systemic intervention being lead by certain consumer organisations active in the electricity sector.

On the other end, in West Bengal the West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission (WBERC) stopped open consultations with consumers. The actions of the WBERC were not welcomed by the CSOs as it acts as a speed breaker in effective consumer participation. Thus, with the launch of the above mentioned project which includes West Bengal as a project country, CUTS International is optimistic in creating a better regulatory framework in the electricity sector which leads to the start of consumer participation by the WBERC.

Moving on from consumer participation onto more technical issues, Anish De, Mercados – Energy Markets International said “one of the crucial provisions of the Indian Electricity Act 2003 is enabling open access to the transmission and distribution networks. It will empower the Independent Power Producer (IPP) in choosing their customers and vice versa”.

Anish mentioned that some of states have shown significant progress in implementing the reforms agenda in electricity sector. However, some crucial issues such as electricity subsidy need to be handled carefully so that the required private investment may be facilitated in the sector.

Dealing with the degree and scope for regulation issue, he added that it is the market structure which determines the need and scope for regulation. In a competitive market, regulators are expected to promote fair competition preventing the scope for anti-competitive practices in the industry.

Payal Malik, consultant working with National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), expressed her views on tariff regulation. She stated that making interventions in the tariff-making process is a complex process because of technical nature of the issues involved. It requires CSOs to go through some basic training before making interventions in the regulatory process. Thus, there is a need to build capacity of the CSOs and this is one of the key objectives the project.

“In the tariff making process the role of regulator is very important in ensuring productive as well as allocative efficiency in the sector. Another important task before the regulator is how to make a balance among the interests conflicting in nature” she added.

To the end of the seminar, Mr. Deepak Saxena from CUTS Centre for Consumer Action, Research & Training (CART), Jaipur, shared his experience while implementing a project on ‘Capacity building of consumers on electricity reforms in Rajasthan’ supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). He added, “Executing a capacity building project was quite a challenge, but with the active support provided from other CSOs helped in making the project a grand success”. In Rajasthan, the project has been implemented in 20 districts of Rajasthan in different phases. During the course of project, consumer activists/CSOs were provided training on regulatory and policy issues. During the grassroots meetings, main focus area was consumer awareness and education on the electricity regulatory issues.

Nepal Govt. should take steps to enforce the Electricity Reforms Act: Navin Dahal
Kolkata, 14 March 2008

It is a pity that average per capita consumption of electricity in Nepal and Bangladesh was reported to be just 86 and 154 units (Kwh) respectively for the year 2005-06. This level of consumption is one of the lowest in the world and needs to be increased significantly for achieving rapid economic growth. On the other hand, the electricity tariff is quite higher in Nepal. A Nepali has to spend about 20% of his total income to pay the electricity bill.

These facts were reveled during the session on Electricity Reforms in Bangladesh and Nepal in two days Launch Meeting and Training Seminar organised by CUTS International. Making his presentation on the Electricity Reforms Nepal, Mr. Navin Dahal from South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), added that though the Electricity Reforms Bill was drafted two years back but government has not taken any further step to enforce the same to speed up the reforms process.

The presentation on behalf of Unnayan Shammunay, a Bangladesh based NGO, was made by Mr. Taifur Rahman. He stated that establishment of Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) to regulate the energy sector in the country was a step forward. The important functions to be discharged by the Commission include determination of end-users tariff, licensing and quality of service,