The last Judge of the National Green Tribunal southern bench retired last week. Now there are none. Narendra Modi and Amit Shaw who head the most anti-environment Government and political party India has ever had, must be happy. In this year’s Finance Act they and their Yogis had smuggled in changes to how Tribunal members should be appointed in India. The National Green Tribunal would no longer be headed by the most senior Judges in the land, but by any Tom Dick or Harry the Government likes. Petitioners to the Supreme Court including Jairam Ramesh challenged the unprecedented use of a money bill to amend the appointment system of Judges under the National Green Tribunal Act by the backdoor. In response in December last year the Supreme Court asked the Government to make the rules available to the court and appointed advocates Arvind Datar and Mohan Parasaran as amicus curae to check out what the Government is proposing. Under the NGT Act 2010 cases are supposed to be resolved in 6 months. But now until the issue is resolved no new Judges will be appointed at the NGT, and thousands of cases will go unaddressed, benefitting corporate India in the time honoured practice in the Indian court system that lets corporate and upper caste defilement of environment and society occur due to prevarication and delay in adjudicating on its wrongfulness.
According to today’s report in DNA India, Datar found that the Narendra Modi Government’s insertion of a Section to amend and replace substantive provisions relating to appointment, selection and other service conditions of 19 Tribunals in the last Finance Act suffers from procedural illegality, smacks of constitutional impropriety and amounts to fraud on the Constitution. DNA reported that Datar considers that the rules for appointing members to tribunals are contradictory to the established law set by the Supreme Court and structured in a way that would dissuade competent judges and lawyers from applying for these posts.
The draft of amended rules creates a system that is a branch of the executive and not the judiciary. Apart from losing its independence the huge quasi-judicial eco-system has not been given able organisational support. The selection committee for appointment of members to the tribunals include secretaries in the ministries of the relevant tribunals. The delegation of substantive powers to frame rules relating to eligibility, selection and other service conditions to the central government is excessive and arbitrary. In 9 out of the 19 tribunals the parent ministries/departments are also a party to the proceedings before such tribunals, and hence, there is a high possibility that the secretary would be a party to such list. This shows that the tribunals are functioning under ministries/departments against which they would have to pass orders. Meetings, deliberations, advertisements, and other secretarial aspects of the appointments are entirely under the control of the parent ministry/department.
Instead of all this, according to Datar, ministries that are parties to proceedings before such tribunals established under it must not be a part of the selection process or even provide for any financial support or hold any administrative control of those tribunals.
Let’s see whose side the Supreme Court comes down on: On the side of Narendra Modi and his corporates, or on the side of the environment and the people of India.
Anandi Sharan was born in Switzerland, lives in Bangalore and last year worked in Araria District Bihar, India. She works on trying to find the best money system to help people adapt to climate change especially in India.