Q. You have a lot of experience in electricity matters. Tell us about your law firm.
My firm was started in March, 2019, with a strength of total 8 lawyers with our office in Defence Colony, New Delhi. The firm started as a boutique law firm with exclusive experience in electricity and regulatory practice. Thereafter, the firm has grown, and now boasts of 17 lawyers, with a branch office in Mumbai.
In September, 2019, with an aim to expand to other areas of practice, Mr. Mridul Chakravarty, Advocate, joined as a Senior Partner in my firm. He is a very experienced advocate who has done all kinds of corporate and commercial litigation, arbitrations, etc., and I am glad to have him in my team. We are now a full service law firm providing all kinds of litigation services. We are also focusing on opening offices in other cities, such as Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, etc.
Q. Could you give examples of some of your clients and some cases that you’re working on?
I have clients like Adani Electricity Mumbai Ltd, which is the distribution company in the suburbs of Mumbai, Adani Power Ltd is my client, Adani Transmission, Vedanta, Balco is there, GMR, SKS Energy, Greenko, Bhadreshwar Vidyut Private Limited, Cummins India, Jindal Steel and Power, etc.
We deal with issues related to PPAs, i.e., power purchase agreements that power companies sign, distribution licensing, issues of tariff between them, disputes like sometimes a project is delayed, sometimes the discoms want to back out or the contractors want to back out. All those kinds of disputes. There are a lot of highly technical matters also which are related to grid disturbance and frequency and other parameters are not adhered to by generators, then there is a penalty. So all those kinds of disputes.
Then there are these generators which have signed power purchase agreements with distribution agencies, they are under two routes — one is section 63 of the Electricity Act which is the bidding route, and one is section 62, cost plus, which means the electricity regulation commissions determine the tariffs and open the entire books and act like auditors. A lot of disputes arise out of them because many a time the entity whose tariff has been determined thinks that they have not got a rightful tariff. So then appeals are filed and proceedings are initiated wherein we have to justify, suppose we have incurred a cost, then why that cost should be allowed because ultimately the cost is to be passed on to the consumers. So, therefore, there’s a thorough audit and based on the case laws and the regulations, the Act, if some cost is to be allowed then it is allowed either by the Appellate Tribunal of Electricity or by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Q. You were a partner with Praxis Counsel and now you have your own firm. How different is the working of the two firms?
When I moved (to form Charter Law Chambers), most of my work moved with me. So I’m continuing to handle that work and also getting more work. But I’m also exploring other areas of practice. As I told you earlier, last year Mr Mridul Chakraborty joined as Partner. He looks after general litigation apart from electricity. That’s how we are progressing.
Q. Your firm also does IPR and Arbitration related matters?
I did IPR quite a long time back. The bulk of IPR matters I did was in 2010. Now some advisory role is there. When I got into electricity matters, I got subsumed in that. But now after starting my own practice I have expanded. We have started to get advisory work again on trademarks, copyright and other issues. Arbitration is handled by my Partner Mridul Chakraborty. I completely look after electricity and regulatory litigation. He takes care of arbitration, High Courts, Supreme Court.
Q. Do you think there are India-specific problems pertaining to infrastructure or the system in IPR or Arbitration?
The problem is the amount of cases. Every court has a dedicated bench, maybe two benches or three or four benches taking up civil matters. Civil matters include everything, apart from IPR matters. So there is a lot of delay in these matters. That is the only concern. Otherwise infrastructure is there.
In arbitration also there is huge potential (in India). But somehow if you go into big arbitrations there are MNCs involved who do not trust the Indian system, the Indian arbitrators. There’s a trust deficit. So there are arbitrations happening in Singapore and other countries. That can be improved.
Q. Why do you think the trust factor is not there?
A lot of issues are there. The arbitration proceedings, sometimes they linger on. And then the biggest problem is that when an award is passed, is it enforceable or can it be challenged? Now under the Arbitration Act, section 34 challenge has been made very difficult. It’s a step in the right direction. But it will take some time to become a country like Singapore or Dubai or other places in the world where arbitration centres are there. Maybe five years or seven years. But it will take time.
Q. Do you think bringing AI, legal tech in the legal system will help in improving it?
Yes, Artificial Intelligence will help. Legal profession is ultimately about how you express yourself. That’s why you have senior advocates and other advocates who can tell the courts exactly what they want to know. I may be a very good lawyer, but I may not be able to convince the judge about what I’m trying to say. And then comes a senior counsel whose language the judge understands. That kind of skill cannot be replaced by AI. But yes, case preparation can be expedited through AI and legal tech. Your portal LegitQuest is there as a search engine. That is very helpful in research. But the human touch, drafting by lawyers, that cannot be replaced.
Q. How are you dealing with the coronavirus lockdown?
These days under house arrest I try to do some drafting work because all my advocates are working from home. So whatever work is coming I’m doing that.
After a very long time I’m at home spending a lot of time with my family. Mostly, work gives me absolutely no time for my family because it’s a tough and serious profession. Even on Sundays I have conferences because courts open on Mondays. But in my free time I like to watch sports or read newspapers and books. I’m not a movie buff. But now I’m watching movies on Netflix due to the lockdown and spending time with my family.
Hemant Singh is founder of Charter Law Chambers, a full-service law firm. Before founding the firm, he was the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Praxis Counsel since 2014. Mr. Singh started his career in Corporate and Regulatory Litigation under the mentorship of Mr. Sanjay Sen, who is now a designated Senior Counsel. Overall, Mr. Singh has over 12 years of experience in regulatory and corporate litigation with over 60 reported judgments.