APTEL | Norms can be relaxed in certain cases to allow appellant to recover its full fixed cost instead of normative the interest of justice and equity; Tribunal allows appeal

Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (APTEL): A Coram of Manjula Chellur, J. (Chairperson) and S.D. Dubey (Technical Member), allowed an appeal which was filed under Section 111 of the Electricity Act, 2003 against order passed by the Uttar Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission (State Commission) whereby the State Commission had rejected the petition of the Appellant seeking loss of fixed charges on account of the lower plant availability of 54.78% only, during the year 2017-18, which was directly due to the Appellant being not able to declare capacity to the full extent wholly and exclusively due to the persistent non-payment of the bills in accordance with the terms of Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) by the Respondent No. 2, Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL) for the Electricity generated and supplied by the Appellant.

Facts:

The Appellant is a generating company within the meaning of Section 2(28) of the Electricity Act, 2003 having established a 3 x 660 MW power plant in villages, existing under the provisions of the Companies Act, 2013 in the State of Uttar Pradesh. The Respondent 1 – State Commission is the Electricity Regulatory Commission for the State of Uttar Pradesh exercising powers and discharging its functions under the provisions of the Electricity Act, 2003, it determined the tariff for the supply of electricity and also exercises the powers to adjudicate and decide on any disputes that arise between the Appellant and UPPCL. The Respondent 2 UPPCL is the Apex Body in the State of Uttar Pradesh which is overseeing the distribution and supply of electricity for and on behalf of the Distribution Companies (Respondents 3-6). They have authorized UPPCL to execute/sign the Power Purchase Agreements and also to carry out all necessary actions on their behalf in relation to the power purchase and supply. For the establishment of the generating station of the appellant, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) dated 22-04-2010 was entered into between the Government of Uttar Pradesh (GoUP) and a consortium of companies led by Bajaj Hindusthan Sugar Limited (BHSL) under a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), the Appellant which had already been incorporated by Respondent 2. The Appellant and UPPCL had entered into a PPA. The State Commission had allowed provisional tariff of Rs 1.88 towards fixed cost and Rs 2.95 as variable charge computed on capital expenditure of Rs 12,868 crores incurred. The said provisional tariff of fixed charges was further revised to Rs 2.24 with effect from 07-03-2018. The final tariff of the Appellant was pending determination from the date of commercial operation. The Appellant had been supplying the entire capacity of the generating station to UPPCL in terms of the PPA however UPPCL had been making substantial delays in making payment of the Appellant’s invoices as per the provisions of the PPA and not been providing and maintaining the payment security mechanism as per PPA. The Appellant had filed a petition before the State Commission seeking directions for payments of the outstanding dues. The State Commission had dismissed the petition based on the undertaking of UPPCL to clear all the dues forthwith and that the escrow mechanism would be created at the earliest. during the year for the purchase of coal and the Appellant was left with only a sum of Rs 2,833 crore out of which the Appellant had to meet its debt service obligations, working capital cost and O&M Charges including salary payment as essential and inevitable cash outgo prior to incurring any amount on procurement of coal. The Appellant kept on financing the coal purchase during the period from working capital facilities to the extent best possible and finally consumed the entire working capital facilities limits as available from time to time. Due to non-payment by UPPCL and the Appellant became a defaulter of its lenders with respect to working capital facilities also in addition to the default of payment of interest and installments of its term loans. This forced the Appellant in a financially stressed situation and the lenders started adjusting the entire money they received towards their dues, owing to which there was no or very little money available with the Appellant.

Arguments:

The Counsel for the appellant, submitted that due to default on the part of UPPCL the appellant has suffered financial misery and was required to pay the coal companies 100% of the cost of coal and also pay 100% of the railway freight in advance, for which the Appellant is required to be paid in time to ensure adequate working capital. The UPPCL have not disputed the fact that it has continuously defaulted in payment of the monthly bills of the Appellant for continuously 10 months in a row. The only defense of UPPCL was that the Appellant was compensated by Late Payment Surcharge (LPSC).

Issues:

  1. Whether the Appellant has changed its prayers during the course of the proceedings in the matter and if so, should the change of prayer be allowed?
  2. Whether Second Respondent has paid the outstanding amounts to the Appellant in accordance with the terms of the PPA and the Regulations specifically in light of the contention of UPPCL that the average payment made during the period was never more than 90 days;
  3. If not, whether the Appellant has actually suffered losses solely due to the non-payment of its outstanding dues in time;
  4. Whether the Regulations can be relaxed to allow the Appellant to recover its full fixed cost for the impugned period and as a consequence, can the PAF of Appellant be reduced to 54.78% from 85%;
  5. Whether late payment surcharge as envisaged in the Regulations and PPA are adequate to compensate the loss;
  6. Whether in facts and circumstances of the case, the Appellant is entitled to carrying cost?

Findings:

The Tribunal while setting aside the order of the State Commission allowed the appeal explaining all the issues at length. The Court relied on the principle founded in 1848 in Robinson v. Harman which supported innocent parties in the event of breach of contract. The Court further answered the issues at length as follows:

Issue No. 1: that the Appellant has not changed its prayer during the course of the proceedings either through its short Rejoinder Note or in Final Written submissions, as alleged by the Second Respondent.

Issue No. 2: that the second Respondent (UPPCL) has not paid the outstanding amounts to the Appellant in accordance with the terms of the PPA and the Regulations. We dismiss the concept of average payments introduced by R2 to justify its default of non-payment. We further observe that the outstanding of the Appellant remained substantial during most of the period in financial year 2017-18. Further, Respondent UPPCL has failed to establish Escrow/ Payment Security Mechanism as yet despite repeated categorical directions by the State Commission in its various orders.

Issue No. 3: Having established a clear correlation between delayed payments and coal shortage, we hold that the Appellant has actually suffered losses solely due to the non-payment of its outstanding dues in time by R-2. As a result, the applicant was not able to procure sufficient coal to declare full Capacity in spite of its generating units being technically available.

Issue No. 4: Having regard to various rulings of his Tribunal and the Hon’ble Apex Court, we are of the view that the instant case is a fit case to relax the Norms to allow the Appellant to recover its full fixed cost for the impugned period at actual PAF of 54.78% instead of normative 85% in the interest of justice and equity.

Issue No. 5: that in view of the facts& circumstances of the matter, late payment surcharge as envisaged in the Regulations and PPA is not meant for or otherwise, adequate to compensate the consequential loss suffered by the Appellant in full. Hence, it is entitled to further relief over and above LPSC.

Issue No. 6: that as per the settled principles of law, the Appellant is entitled to restitution and thus, to carrying cost from the date of capacity lost to date of actual payment at the prevailing rate of interest in accordance with UPERC Regulations.

[Lalitpur Power Generation Co. Ltd. v. Uttar Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission, 2020 SCC OnLine APTEL 82, decided on 28-09-2020]


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assitant has put this story together

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