Bombay HC quashes NGT’s orders creating ‘special bench’ to hear Goa matters

Updated on Sep 22, 2022 12:09 PM IST

The Goa Foundation, an environment monitoring NGO based in Goa, had challenged five such orders issued by the registrar for transfer of matters

The NGT justified the creation of the special bench to hear cases from Goa. (File image)
The NGT justified the creation of the special bench to hear cases from Goa. (File image)
ByGerard de Souza

A three-judge bench of the Bombay High Court at Goa quashed a bunch of notices issued by the registrar of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) constituting ‘special benches’ of the NGT to hear certain matters arising out of the western zone bench at Pune as being arbitrary and ruled that the registrar has no powers to do so.

The Goa Foundation, an environment monitoring NGO based in Goa, had challenged five such orders issued by the registrar for transfer of matters, claiming that the orders directing the shifting of cases from one bench to another and one zone to another was completely arbitrary, without jurisdiction and was a severe inconvenience to litigants and complainants to keep track of which case was being heard where.

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The Goa Foundation alleged that the five notices issued by the registrar, have resulted in cases from Goa that were being heard by the Western Zonal Bench of the National Green Tribunal at Pune “being abruptly taken up, for no good reason and without clarity as to which case would be taken and when, by a so-called ‘Special Bench’ sitting in New Delhi, and comprising members of the Northern Bench joined on VC by members of the Western Zonal Bench.”

The NGT justified the creation of the special bench to hear cases from Goa saying that it was done to clear the ‘backlog’ of cases due to the non-functioning of the western bench earlier.

“The Chairperson has no authority whatsoever to specify the place of sitting of the Tribunal or the territorial jurisdiction under each such place of sitting. That can only be done by the Central Government, and it can only be done by notification. It is incapable of being done by administrative action… the Chairperson has no power or authority to simply transfer cases from one place to another, nor to change the territorial jurisdiction of any bench. Any such executive or administrative,” the bench consisting of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta, Justice G S Patel (who authored the judgement) and Justice M S Sonak, ruled.

“The rule (cited by the registrar to defend his administrative orders) does not mean that the Chairperson can randomly cherry-pick matters from any Bench and withdraw them to himself or to a Bench over which he presides,” the High Court said.

“It is unclear to anyone, even to us, which matters are to be taken by the Special Bench or why, and which will continue before the Western Zonal Bench. It is certainly not convenient — and it is certainly most inconvenient — for litigants and advocates from Goa not to know which matter is to be heard where by what Bench and for what reason, and to find that matters in a defined jurisdiction have suddenly been removed or withdrawn to some other bench with a differently defined jurisdiction,” the High Court also said.

The High Court observed that since a previous order of the Central Government (in 2017), which arbitrarily transferred cases arising out of Goa and the Union territories of Daman, Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli from the western zone to the northern zone (principal bench) in Delhi was quashed by the High Court “the ingenious workaround seems to be to leave the jurisdiction intact, but to take selective matters away from the jurisdictional bench.”

“We also find that they are violative of Article 14 and suffer from the impermissible vice of manifest arbitrariness. Nobody knows which case will go to the Special Bench and which will not, or which might cycle back, when, or why. In fact, this is a complete usurpation of jurisdiction of the Western Zonal Bench, and it fails every test of law and judicial review,” the high court said.

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Monday, September 26, 2022
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