National Green Tribunal running out of members
As on Tuesday, which is NGT chairman justice (retd) Swatanter Kumar’s last day in office, the green court will be left with less than one-third of its sanctioned strength of 20 officials.india Updated: Dec 19, 2017 20:32 IST
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is battling a severe staff crunch. When its chairman Justice Swatanter Kumar retires on Tuesday, the green court will be left with less than a third of its sanctioned strength of 20 members.
Two other members, Justice MS Nambiar and Justice UD Salvi, are set to retire in January and February next year.
Created in 2010 for expeditious disposal of cases related to environment protection and forest conservation, the NGT started with seven benches across the country. Members say it is now effectively working with just two regular benches – a principal bench in Delhi headed by Justice Kumar and another in Bhopal.
Under the NGT Act, a regular bench consists of one judicial and one expert member.
Last ditch efforts by the NGT bar association to save the specialised forum from inching towards a closure also failed after the Supreme Court on last week refused to give a two-month extension to its retiring members.
Advocate ADN Rao, appearing for the NGT bar, urged a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra to pass a judicial order giving three months extension to retiring judicial and non judicial members of NGT.
Pointing to NGT’s depleting strength, Rao pleaded with the top court to extend the concession of extension of service of retiring members as it did in the case of the case of Central Administrative Tribunal and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) last month.
When Rao asserted, the CJI told him he was “aware of the situation”.
Starting with seven benches all over the country, the NGT is now effectively working with just two regular benches, one of which is the principal bench in Delhi headed by justice (retd) Kumar. The other is in Bhopal.
Under the NGT Act, a regular bench should comprise one judicial and one expert member. Due to non-filling of vacancies against retirements, there are only two expert members left — one in Delhi and the other in Bhopal.
To tide over the existing situation, NGT set up two single-member benches headed by a judicial member each to sit in Chennai and Kolkata.
This new creation of single-member bench has been challenged by the NGT bar in the Supreme Court and is pending adjudication.
The last appointment to NGT was that of Nagin Nanda, an expert member, who joined the principal bench on March 1.
Due to paucity of members, only one of the three courts in Delhi’s principle bench is sitting. Two of the four zonal benches have also stopped functioning due to non-filling of vacancies.
Despite the constraints, NGT has been able to clear cases as per the mandate, which is to dispose cases within six months. More than 23,000 cases were filed since it began seven years ago. The green court has decided 19,970 and just a little over 3,300 cases are left for final disposal.
Besides, the tribunal has imposed heavy costs on industries and companies in accordance with the polluters’ pay principle.
Rao, who also assists the top court in several environment-related cases, told HT the reason for delay has been the amendment to the Finance Act that modified the process to make appointments in tribunals. The amendment gives government an upper hand in recommending the names of its members.
“Petitions are pending in the SC against the amendment. The government has agreed to change the Act to make the CJI or his nominee the head of the selection and disciplinary committee. Hopefully, there should be some movement,” Rao said, adding that at until then, the top court should have let the present members continue or order fresh appointments under the old rules.
Alarmed at the state of affairs, the Delhi HC had recently asked the Centre if it “planned to wind up the NGT”.