The Electricity Act, 2003 was brought in place to consolidate laws relating to the generation, transmission, distribution, electricity supply, trading and use of power and electricity and take measures for the development of the electricity industry. One may think about what lawyers do when they practice in electricity laws and what work goes in there. To answer a few basic questions, we have Mukund P Unny, an advocate practising electricity laws in the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court, Appellate Tribunal for Electricity.
1. Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
I am a practitioner of law based in Delhi. I work largely in the areas surrounding civil and commercial laws. A substantial part of my work is revolved around the Supreme Court, the High Court of Delhi and other Tribunals and Commissions. As a law student, I am interested in academic areas like comparative constitutional law, electricity law and insolvency law. I am also a regular columnist for various publications, and my work has been covered in Indian Express, Livelaw etc.
2. Was pursuing law a conscious decision after school? How would you describe your law school experience?
I say that I am an accidental lawyer. As a school student, I was interested in journalism and economics. I wanted to do economics and then take up journalism to be a financial journalist. After my XII exams, I was primarily thinking of joining IIT Madras for their humanities course. IIT Madras had a tough entrance exam called Humanities and Social Sciences Entrance Examination (HSEE). Unfortunately, or fortunately, I missed the date to apply for this exam. As luck would have it, I happened to clear the CLAT and could join the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi (“NUALS”). Over a period of time, I started liking law as a subject and did not think twice about jumping into the profession after graduation. College life was exciting since many opportunities were thrown at us, academically and otherwise. I was able to be part of various seminars and moot court competitions. In NUALS, we benefited from having a mix of experienced law teachers and practising professionals as faculty members. I believe, therefore, that the students were exposed to the practical side of the law in the college itself. My university also encouraged internships. As a matter of fact, I was able to do 9 internships at various places, including corporate firms like Khaitan & Co., J Sagar Associates etc.
3. Did you start your practice immediately after graduating from law school? Why did you choose to practice? What is your area of specialisation?
Yes, I started my practice a few days after my enrolment as a lawyer. I had known towards the end of my college life that litigation is going to be my career. In fact, internships helped me arrive at that decision. I had done almost 5 different internships in corporate law firms. But it was this one litigation internship towards the fag end of my education convinced me to take the robes and litigate. My areas of specialisation are electricity laws and insolvency laws.
4. What is electricity law? How did you venture into this area of law?
India’s power sector has a valuation that runs into billions of dollars. Certain distinct laws govern the power sector. The important statute that regulates the power sector is the Electricity Act, 2003. However, various rules and regulations are formed by quasi-judicial bodies working under the Electricity Act, 2003. This set of laws regulate the electricity sector- right from the prescription of tariff to multi-crore power purchase agreements. I started my practice in a chamber that had substantial practice in electricity law. Being a technical subject, I had great difficulty in navigating through the subject. However, over a period of time, I got a grasp and developed an interest in this area. I have been able to appear and argue electricity matters before the Supreme Court, the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity, various State Commissions and the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission.
5. What kind of cases can one expect in electricity laws?
Cases can be aplenty in electricity practice. For example, there can be disputes between the consumer of electricity and the electricity distribution company on the enforcement of a contract; there can be disputes between the producer of electricity and its distributor regarding the enforcement of the power purchase agreement. The disputes also vary from the fixation of tariff to various intricate technical issues regarding compliance with the electricity distribution companies and generating companies. It is important to note that the fixation of tariff itself is a big area. The electricity price is not the same for all the consumers. The price you and I pay for the electricity usage in our house is different from the price a large industry pays. Various modalities go into the fixation of tariff, and the electricity company does not do the same. Only a State Commission can fix the electricity tariff. After looking into various aspects, the electricity company will have to submit a tariff petition to the State Commission and the Commission; after looking into various aspects, fixes tariff for various types of consumers. The practise area is vast and offers a lot of opportunities for young lawyers.
6. Which has been the most challenging case you’ve worked on so far? Could you shed some light on it?
The most challenging case regarding the electricity law has been one arising over a tariff dispute between the Andaman and Nicobar Administration and a diesel plant operating in Port Blair. This was my first electricity law brief, and I say this was the most challenging because I was new to the subject. The claim of our client viz. the diesel plant operator ran into around Rs 200 crores, and the documents ran into thousands of pages since there were 2 rounds of litigations that went up to the Supreme Court. This stream of law is a lot about computation, but figures did not appeal to me much. The challenge of understanding the nuances of the law and accountancy took the larger part of my time. The case was before a bench presided over by Justice Rohinton Nariman. We got a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court. I believe that I was able to assist my senior to the best of my ability.
7. How can fresher graduates venture out to practising electricity laws? What avenues are open to them?
There are many premier law firms where the energy sector is at the core of their practice. Many smaller firms are also emerging since the sector is expanding in India. I can say with conviction that this sector is booming considering the vast investments made by the Governments and companies in the renewable energy sector. Fresh graduates are placed better to get opportunities to join law firms in the years to come. It is generally seen those power companies do not directly hire from campuses since they are not exposed to such a niche law in college. But many of my friends from the bar have chosen to take up in-house assignments after joining the profession. Therefore, if the fresh graduates wish to take up in-house jobs, they are better positioned to navigate after putting in some years in practice.