Legislation: The National Assembly yesterday unanimously decided to amend the Electricity Act 2001 in a future session, based on the Assembly’s economic development and private sector committee’s recommendation.

A report presented by the committee in the House pointed out a number of sections in the Act that are inconsistent with other Acts and government policies.

Although, the committee recommended that the Assembly come up with a recommendation in the next session, economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk said the government needs time to do a thorough groundwork. “Six months would be too short to review all relevant policies,” he said.

Lyonpo said the country has come a long way since the enactment of the Act with many institutions and policies in place. “A lot of changes have taken place in the 14 years of its enactment,” he said.

Member of economic development and private sector committee, Wamrong MP, Karma Tenzin, presented the report. However, the report recommended the government to first review the existing hydropower policy and base the amendment on the revised hydropower policy.

According to the committee’s findings, the existing Electricity Act has become obsolete. “The Act was mainly to create the Bhutan Electricity Authority (BEA) to control and monitor stakeholders and not so much to provide a direction to the electricity sector,” Karma Tenzin said.

The existing hydropower policy was adopted in 2006, while the electricity Act was enacted in 2001, according to the report.

The committee highlighted the flaws in the Act. Section 49 mandates the BEA to manage bidding procedures for construction of electricity supply facilities by private parties, but the Bhutan Sustainable Hydropower Development Policy states that the energy department is responsible for the same.

The Act empowers the BEA to acquire land and water, a provision repealed by the land Act 2007 and Water Act 2011.

The committee reported that the Land Act was a problem in undertaking commercial projects by the BEA. “When the Land Act says that a land on lease cannot be mortgaged or subleased, it creates a problem in commercial projects,” he said.

Problems regarding the international connection of electricity lines across the border were also highlighted. “Other countries would not go by our domestic internal grid regulation,” he said, adding that how the Electricity Act should handle such an issue must be considered when amending the Act.

With hydropower projects in the construction phase, many major substations are being planned within the country, however, committee members stated they will need to be connected to grids outside the country.

The Act also identifies some offences, but without prescribing a penalty or categorising the offences, the committee recommended the need for categorisation of offences and the amount levied as penalty.

It was also recommended that government review the BEA’s organisational structure in terms of granting the authority full autonomy.

By MB Subba