OERC Top Job: Suresh Mahapatra’s Extension As Odisha Chief Secretary Fuels Guessing Game

Bhubaneswar: With Chief Secretary Suresh Mahapatra getting a six-month extension in the top job, administrative circles here are agog with speculation on who would be the next chairperson of Odisha Electricity Regulatory Commission (OERC).

Mahapatra is among nearly two dozen applicants for the OERC chief’s position, which has fallen vacant since U N Behera’s term ended on January 15. A 1986 batch IAS officer, Mahapatra was due to superannuate from government service in February end, making him a clear favourite for the coveted job in the electricity monitor.

However, with the Odisha government proposing and the Centre agreeing to give Mahapatra a six-month extension as Chief Secretary the question doing the rounds in bureaucratic and electricity industry circles is whether the Naveen Patnaik government will chose to appoint Behera’s successor soon or keep the OERC job vacant till Mahapatra is ready for it.

While the ruling BJD has preferred to keep everyone guessing, Member (Judicial) of OERC Gajendra Mohapatra has been functioning as the in-charge chairperson of the commission. The commission, industry insiders said, has precedence of running the show with interim chiefs for a few months.

The ruling dispensation is expected to prefer for a retired bureaucrat as the OERC boss, considering that the three-person commission currently has a Member (Judicial), Gajendra Mohapatra, and a Member (Technical), Sushant Raymohapatra. If the government decides to wait for Mahapatra, who has the experience of serving as Secretary, Energy, and Chairman of OPGC, OHPC, OTPCL and Gridco, then other aspirants would have to nothing much to hope for. But if it decides otherwise, there are at least three other former IAS officers – Arun Panda, Manoj Kumar Parida and Pramod Kumar Das – who have thrown their hats into the ring, sources revealed. The last date for submitting applications was January 22.

Panda, a 1984 batch Odisha cadre IAS officer, retired from government service as Secretary of Union MSME ministry in April 2020 and is currently serving as Senior Fellow of World Resources Institute besides being Independent Director of Tata Power Northern Odisha Distribution Limited and Tata Power Southern Odisha Distribution Limited.

Parida, who belonged to AGMUT cadre of 1986 batch, is serving as Chairman, National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention, and is due to superannuate from government service in the end of February. Das, in turn, is an 1986 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre and retired as Secretary, Union ministry of minority affairs in June, 2021.

Industry insiders feel the OERC chief’s job could be of much interest to the powers that be in the government considering the recent takeover of all four distribution companies by Tata Power. The new electricity tariff order is also expected to be out in March. While normally a three-member selection committee, including the Chief Secretary, chooses the Chairperson of OERC, this time with Mahapatra in the race a two-member panel comprising Judge of Orissa High Court Justice Jaswant Singh and Chairperson of Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) P K Pujari might be required to do the job.

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