Bombay High Court directs NGT to set up a branch in Goa to hear matters
The ruling came on a writ petition filed by Goan environmentalists
The Bombay High Court has ruled that the chairperson of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has no power under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 to constitute special benches to hear environmental matters, and then arbitrarily decide on such matters.
The judgment of the three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta, Justice G.S. Patel and Justice M.S. Sonak is expected to have far-reaching consequences.
The ruling came on a writ petition filed by advocate Norma Alvares on behalf of the Goa Foundation.
The court set aside five notices issued by the registrars of the Delhi and Pune branches of the NGT. These 'special benches' were presumably constituted under the 'competent authority', which meant the chairperson. However, the court noted that the NGT Act had no such provision.
The bench stated that to decide matters, the statute required a regular bench to necessarily have an expert member and a judicial member. It added there was no sanction for a bench comprising five members (three judicial and two experts), which was invariably the constitution of the special benches.
Justice Patel, who wrote the judgment, had in 2017 struck down an order of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, transferring the jurisdiction of Goa matters to the Delhi, NGT. He repeated his recommendation made earlier that Goa needed a circuit bench of NGT.
The bench added, "We, therefore, reaffirm such recommendation that far from moving Goa-centric matters away from Pune, we must endeavor to set up a circuit bench in Panaji. This is the only way that true access to justice can be achieved, which is a part and parcel of the right to life of every individual."