Bad news for environment activists have emerged as a severely staff crunched National Green Tribunal (NGT) is shutting down all its zonal benches in Pune, Bhopal and Kolkata, and have asked the members to go back to the Tribunal’s Principal bench at New Delhi.
The tribunal though has a sanctioned strength of 41 staff members, is
presently functioning with only six of its members, and this strength could go down further by the end of this month with the retirement of acting Chairperson UD Salvi.
The shutting down of the zonal benches is result of a Supreme Court verdict on January 31, which stated that single-judge benches cannot hear and decide matters in the NGT.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was hearing a petition filed by the Pune’s NGT Bar Association, challenging the constitutional validity of the National Green Tribunal (Practices and Procedure) Amendment Rules, 2017 that allows even a single member bench to perform judicial function.
Soon after this an order was issued exercising powers conferred under Rule 3 of the NGT Act (Financial and Administrative Powers), 2011, and transferred all four of its members from Pune (Justice Jawad Rahim), Bhopal (Justice Raghuvendra S Rathore, judicial member and Satyawan Singh Garbyal, expert member) and Kolkata (Justice S P Wangdi) zonal benches to the Principal Bench, New Delhi.
Environmental lawyers have termed it as a step towards death of environment democracy.
Speaking to the media persons, senior environment lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay, who is also battling several environment cases from the Northeast at the NGT said, “It is a bizarre moment as no appointments mean you are killing the institution after five years of existence.
“People will be required to come to Delhi because of non-operational Zonal Benches, which is unfair,” he said.
Another prominent environment lawyer, Rittwick Dutta, who is also fighting several important cases from the Northeast, told reporters that it is unfortunate that the government did take any action despite knowing about the vacancies well in advance.