SC sets aside high court verdict on fuel price adjustment

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday set aside a Lahore High Court (LHC) judgement, delivered on Feb 7 this year, declaring illegal the levy of fuel price adjustment, quarterly tariff adjustment and a change in status of tariff from industrial to commercial.

The court directed the petitioners to approach the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority’s (Nepra) appellate tribunal to challenge the High Court’s decision.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, had taken up a number of appeals filed by power distribution companies (Discos) against the LHC order.

The bench declared the LHC decision as not practicable, both constitutionally and legally, with an observation that the Nepra appellate tribunal was the appropriate forum to handle such matters.

The court, however, directed petitioners to file appeals before the appellate tribunal within 15 days. The tribunal, in turn, was directed to reach a decision within 60 days.

The apex court dictated a draft proposal, stating that the petitioners would file an appeal before the appellate tribunal within 15 days starting from Monday and the tribunal shall decide the appeals expeditiously.

“Needless to say that the statutory provision (60 days) will be abided by the tribunal in deciding the appeals,” the order said, adding that the tribunal would fix the appeals for hearing after 25 days and won’t entertain adjournment.

The parties have agreed to pay the levy charges determined by the authority for future adjustment, the SC order said. But it will be subject to the decision on the appeal.

Till a decision, arrears claimed by Discos will remain in abeyance.

The apex court stated that since the relief granted by the LHC was not even sought by the petitioners (consumers), the court order was found to be illegal, unconstitutional and unworkable.

The Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) contended that the petitions filed before the LHC were not maintainable as the petitioners had an adequate remedy provided under the law.

Article 199 of the Constitution stipulates that when an adequate remedy is available in the shape of a competent forum, that avenue should be availed.

Cheap modes of electricity

The LHC had ordered Nepra to explore cheap modes of producing electricity. It told the federal government to provide the maximum subsidy allowed under the law to consumers using up to 500 units or less per month.

The high court judgements had come on petitions moved by domestic, industrial and commercial consumers challenging the recovery of fuel price adjustment and other levies for July on the ground that Nepra was not competent to do so because it was not “duly constituted as required under Section 3 of its Act”.

The high court had ordered power distribution companies to inform consumers about different charges on a monthly basis and that the fuel price adjustment will not go beyond seven days.

The quarterly tariff adjustment shall not go beyond the statutory period, the LHC order added.

The Supreme Court asked the power regulator (Nepra) not to charge exorbitant tariffs beyond the paying capacity of domestic consumers.

Nepra was also told to fix responsibility of overcharging on the basis of line losses and inefficient power plants. The financial burden will be shared by the companies proportionately.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2023

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