Taking note of the "appalling situation" regarding vacancies in the National Green Tribunal (Western Zone) [NGT], the Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre to expedite steps to ensure that all vacancies are filled at the earliest.
A 3-judge Bench, comprising of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna, had been apprised of the fact that the Tribunal was functioning at a mere strength of 7 judges, as opposed to the minimum statutory requirement of 10 judges.
"The Tribunal is presently functioning with the strength of only seven judges (one chairman, three judicial members and three technical members) despite the mandate of the Act to ensure that the minimum number of members shall not be less than 10 (ten). This is an appalling situation concerning the premier institution such as National Green Tribunal, which is required to deal with environmental issues. That cannot be countenanced."
- Recorded Supreme Court
It had been brought to the Apex Court's notice, through a petition filed by the Bar Association of NGT (Western Zone), that there existed 14 vacancies in the Tribunal at the moment. Accepting this fact, the Centre assured Court that a notification to fill up 9 of these vacancies would be issued by the end of this month (July, 2020).
"That, in our opinion, is not enough", observed the Top Court and directed the Centre to issue notifications for all existing vacancies in one go. Notifications, clarified the Bench, must be issued for all "anticipated vacancies" as well, i.e- those offices which will see members retiring in the next 6 months.
The Court further instructed the Centre to issue all such notifications within 10 days from the day of the Order, after which the process for selecting appropriate candidates must also be accelerated.
"We deem it appropriate to direct the Union of India to notify all the existing vacancies at one go (of seven judicial members and seven technical members), including the anticipated vacancies likely to take place in the next six months.
That notification be issued not later than 10 days from today and whereafter the process for selection/appointment be expedited."
- Reads the operative part of the Order
In furtherance of its concern regarding the functioning of the Tribunal, the Top Court decided to extend the tenure of the members presently holding office in NGT, and are due to retire shortly, and directed them to continue discharging their functions till the time candidates are appointed against the said vacancies.
"Until the proposed selection process culminates with appointment order(s) of the concerned candidates against the existing vacancies, the members presently in office as on this date but are likely to retire shortly, shall continue to hold office in terms of this order and discharge their functions accordingly."
The Centre is to comply with these directions and report the same before the Court on the next date of hearing, August 13, 2020.