Peeved at the state of affairs in the Central and State Pollution Control Boards, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has observed that judicial persons would be the most effective in administering the boards.
“Having regard to the statutory schemes of composition of Central Pollution Control Board as well as State Pollution Control Boards under Section 3 and 4 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, we do not find any prohibition for a person with legal and judicial background being at the helm of affairs,” the tribunal has observed.
“While the technical functions can be performed by other technically qualified persons, legal and judicial functions like grant of consent, hearing of appeals, taking action for non-compliance can certainly be taken by the person having legal/judicial background,” the NGT has said.
“Accordingly we suggest that the Central Government, as well as State Governments, may appoint persons with judicial background to deal with the issues which may require the knowledge of legal and judicial system in the Pollution Control Boards and the local authorities,” it said, adding, “Such persons can also advise such bodies on manner of compliance of law so that such bodies can be saved from unnecessary litigation and charges of failure to comply with law”.
The tribunal has felt that “Presence of a person with judicial background will help the Pollution Control Boards as well as local bodies to effectively discharge their administrative and judicial functions in an efficient manner.”
The tribunal has asked the Central and state governments to take a call on the issue consistent with the Supreme Court’s observations in Techi Tagi Tara Vs Rajendra Singh Bhandari and Others judgment that involved the question of unsatisfactory manning of the Pollution Control Boards with either the bureaucrats or politicians as Chairpersons or members of boards in various states.
In its observations, the Supreme Court had noted that “The primary lacuna with this kind pf appointment was that it did not evoke any trust in the people that decisions are taken by an ex-official of the state or a former political leader, appointed to this regulatory post through what appeared to be a totally non-transparent unilateral decision.”
“Many senior environmental scientists and other officers of various State Pollution Control, Boards have expressed their concern of appointing bureaucrats and political leaders as Chairpersons who they feel not able to create a favourable atmosphere and an effective work culture in the functioning of the board,” the apex court had observed.
Though it had set aside the NGT’s order directing the Executive in all states to frame appropriate guidelines or recruitment rules within six months, the Supreme Court had held that suitable professionals and experts were appointed to the boards.
The NGT passed the order on July 20 while hearing applications transferred to it by the Delhi High Court before which writ petitions were filed by Delhi residents Satish Kumar and Mahavir Singh, related to continued burning of plastics and other waste materials in several localities on the Delhi-Haryana borders.
“Let a copy of this order be sent to the Secretary, MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests), Central Government and the Chief Secretaries of all the States by e-mail for their consideration and action. They are at liberty to send their response, if any, in four months by email,” the NGT order read, while listing the matter on December 3.
Rahul Choudhary, counsel for the applicant Mahavir Singh, said, “The order is theoretically good as judicial or legal persons would have better understanding and interpretation of the court’s orders and the statutes. But the practical problem in efficient working of pollution boards is that they are massively understaffed.”
“An order for having judicial persons is all right but there must be some observation or order for filling up vacancies also. Imagine how many industries can be inspected in a day by just 4-6 staffers of a board. These few men have to collect samples and prepare analysis reports also,” Choudhary said.