One person having knowledge of law must be a member of State Electricity Commissions: SC

Supreme Court: Deciding whether under the Electricity Act, 2003 it is mandatory to have a judicial mind presiding the Central and State Regulatory Commissions and whether the expression “may” should be read as “shall”, the bench of J. Chelameswar and S.K. Kaul, JJ held that Section 84(2) of the said Act is only an enabling provision to appoint a High Court Judge as a Chairperson of the State Commission of the said Act and it is not mandatory to do so. It was further held:

“It is mandatory that there should be a person of law as a Member of the Commission, which requires a person, who is, or has been holding a judicial office or is a person possessing professional qualifications with substantial experience in the practice of law, who has the requisite qualifications to have been appointed as a Judge of the High Court or a District Judge.”

The Court noticed that the State Commission, though defined as a ‘Commission’ has all the ‘trappings of the Court and that:

“Once it has the ‘trappings of the Court’ and performs judicial functions, albeit limited ones in the context of the overall functioning of the Commission, still while performing such judicial functions which may be of far reaching effect, the presence of a member having knowledge of law would become necessary. The absence of a member having knowledge of law would make the composition of the State Commission such as would make it incapable of performing the functions under Section 86(1)(f) of the said Act.”

The bench said that in any adjudicatory function of the State Commission, it is mandatory for a member having the aforesaid legal expertise to be a member of the Bench. It further held that in case there is no member from law as a member of the Commission, the next vacancy arising in every State Commission shall be filled in by a Member of law as mentioned above.

To avoid any confusion, the Court made it clear that it’s verdict will apply prospectively and would not affect the orders already passed by the Commission from time to time. [State of Gujarat v. Utility User’s Welfare Association, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 368, deciding 12.04.2018]

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