Public Hearings and Public Participation in Decision Making in Electricity Distribution Companies

The annual revenue requirement of electricity distribution companies is 20% of the Union Budget, indicating the scale of their operations. The article discusses the importance of public participation in electricity distribution companies’ decision-making processes, as well as the role of public hearings held by Electricity Regulatory Commissions (ERCs) in this regard. The central ERC recently issued a public notice announcing that hearings would resume in-person.

Everything there is to know about Electricity Regulatory Commissions (ERCs)

  • Independent organisation: ERCs are government-established independent statutory bodies that regulate the generation, transmission, distribution, and trading of electricity in a specific state or region.
  • ERCs’ primary role is to protect electricity consumers’ interests by ensuring that electricity is supplied to them at reasonable and affordable rates while ensuring the financial viability of the electricity sector.
  • ERCs can also issue licences to power generation and distribution companies, set tariffs, and adjudicate disputes between electricity stakeholders.
  • To ensure a fair and transparent regulatory framework that promotes competition, efficiency, and innovation, ERCs are an essential component of the electricity sector.

The Importance of Public Participation in Electricity Distribution Company Decision-Making

  • Transparency: Public participation promotes transparency in decision-making by informing stakeholders about the decisions being made, the rationale behind them, and the potential impact on the community.
  • Accountability: It establishes a system of checks and balances to ensure that decisions are made in the best interests of the general public.
  • Improved Decision Making: Public participation can provide DISCOMs with valuable community insights and perspectives. This can help to improve decision-making by ensuring that decisions are made based on a thorough understanding of the issues and community needs.
  • Increased Trust: Involving the public in decision-making helps to build trust between the community and the DISCOM. This can result in increased support for the decisions made, greater acceptance of the outcomes, and a lower likelihood of conflict or opposition.
  • Community Empowerment: Through public participation, members of the community can have a say in decisions that affect their daily lives. This can result in increased ownership and responsibility for the outcomes, as well as increased engagement and participation in future decision-making processes.

In-person Public Hearings


  • Greater sense of community: In-person hearings foster a stronger sense of community by allowing for face-to-face interactions, which can aid in the development of trust and dialogue.
  • In-person hearings allow participants to be physically present in the room, which can help them be heard and have their concerns addressed.
  • Better understanding: Because participants can ask questions and seek clarification in real time, in-person hearings may be more effective at conveying complex information and data.
  • Transparency: In-person hearings can increase transparency by allowing the public to see and hear the proceedings firsthand, as well as hold regulators and utilities accountable.


  • Accessibility: In-person public hearings may not be accessible to all members of the public, particularly those who are physically unable to attend, live far away, or have other commitments.
  • In-person hearings can be time-consuming and expensive to organise and attend, which can discourage participation and limit the diversity of voices represented.
  • Participation may be limited to those who are comfortable speaking in public or who have the means to travel and attend the hearing, potentially excluding some marginalised groups.

Online Public Hearings

Advantages of Online Public Hearings

  • Accessibility: Because participants can attend from anywhere with an internet connection, online hearings are more accessible to a wider audience.
  • Convenience and flexibility: Online hearings provide participants with greater convenience and flexibility because they can attend from the comfort of their own homes and at their own pace.
  • Increased participation: Online hearings may increase participation from diverse groups and individuals who are not comfortable speaking in public or travelling to attend an in-person hearing.
  • Cost-effective: Because online hearings are less expensive to organise and attend, more resources can be allocated to other aspects of the regulatory process.

The Drawbacks of Online Public Hearings

  • Technical difficulties: Technical difficulties, such as a poor internet connection or issues with the online platform, can impede participation and the effectiveness of the hearing.
  • Online hearings may lack the sense of community that in-person hearings do, potentially limiting opportunities for dialogue and relationship building.
  • Online hearings may be inaccessible to those who do not have reliable internet access or the necessary technology to participate due to the digital divide.
  • Privacy concerns: Because participants may be uncomfortable sharing personal information or speaking out in a public forum, online hearings may raise privacy concerns.

What is the best possible solution?

  • To ensure quality public participation, a hybrid mode with both in-person and online options is the best approach.
  • Returning to the pre-pandemic practise of only in-person hearings eliminates a convenient avenue for consumer engagement and has an impact on the meaningful interactions that are possible in the in-person platform.
  • The availability of an online mode in addition to in-person hearings would strengthen public participation and close access gaps, give citizens more flexibility in participating, and enable a robust avenue for public participation.

@the end

Public hearings held in hybrid mode, with the citizen choosing the mode, are best suited to improving access and ensuring quality public participation. Institutions must continue to build infrastructure and experience for online hearings, as well as improve how online hearings are conducted.

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