NEW DELHI: Abhijit Prabhudesai, a Goa-based environmentalist, has travelled to Delhi six times since last December to appear before the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT’s) principal bench, which is hearing his petition on environmental concerns regarding the Mopa airport in north Goa.
His plea was being heard by NGT’s Pune bench until the tribunal started facing severe shortage of judicial members, closing it down temporarily, along with its regional benches in Pune, Bhopal, Chennai and Kolkata. Prabhudesai is among several petitioners from around the country who have exhausted their resources to pull through their cases.
Many petitioners do not have the resources to travel to Delhi, so they have been waiting indefinitely for NGT hearings to resume at regional benches. “I’m shattered financially.
Even after hearing the case so many times, acting chairperson of NGT justice UD Salvi retired before closing the matter. This means I have to keep going to Delhi,” said Prabhudesai.
On Wednesday afternoon, office-bearers, who discussed the backlog of cases, said: “NGT has not seen worse days. We have so many important environmental cases pending but there is nobody to hear them,” one said.
Against a minimum strength of one chairperson, 10 judicial members and 10 expert members, NGT has only three judicial members, including acting chairperson justice Jawad Rahim, and two expert members.
The slow down in appointments had begun a couple of years ago when NGT had written more than once to the Union environment ministry, appealing them to expedite the process.
But in June, the Finance Act 2017 ‘diluted’ several provisions of NGT. It also gave undue power to the Centre to decide on qualifications, appointment, term of office, salary and removal of the chairperson and other members of the tribunal by overturning the minimum requirements laid down by the NGT Act, according to lawyers. Environmental and legal experts are worried about the future of NGT.
“Why should petitioners suffer because of the inefficiency of the government? People have to travel to Delhi from far-off places. The government should make a separate fund for their travel. By slowing down hearing of cases, the government is violating citizens’ right to life,” said Ritwick Dutta, environmental lawyer.