The Supreme Court on Friday directed all state governments to frame guidelines or recruitment rules within six months for appointment of suitable professionals in the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs). It set aside the August 24, 2016, order of National Green Tribunal (NGT) directing the state governments to reconsider the appointments and laying down guidelines for appointments in SPCBs, saying it exceeded its jurisdiction.
A bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta also granted liberty to “public spirited individuals” to move the concerned High Court, if any person who does not meet the statutory or constitutional requirements was appointed as the Chairperson or a member of any SPCB or was currently continuing in such posts.
“We are of the view that it would be appropriate, while setting aside the judgment and order of the NGT, to direct the executive in all the States to frame appropriate guidelines or recruitment rules within six months, … and ensure that suitable professionals and experts are appointed to the SPCBs,” the bench said.
It said that the concern was not lack of professional expertise as there was plenty available in the country, but lack of “dedication and willingness to take advantage of the resources available and instead benefit someone close to the powers that be”.
“With this couldn’t-care-less attitude, the environment and public trust are the immediate casualties. It is unlikely that with such an attitude, any substantive effort can be made to tackle the issues of environment degradation and issues of pollution”, the bench said.
Observing that though the NGT was faced with the same situation, the court said it appreciated the tribunal’s frustration over the scant regard for the law by some state governments, but it was still necessary to exercise restraint. The bench said that “unfortunately” despite suggestions, recommendations and guidelines the SPCBs continue to be manned by “persons who do not necessarily have the necessary expertise or professional experience to address the issues for which the SPCBs were established by law”.
The court said that apart from the central government, several authorities and committees constituted since 1984, have applied their mind to the issue of appointment of members of the SPCBs. “All these suggestions and recommendations are more than enough for making expert and professional appointments to the SPCBs being geared towards establishing a professional body with multifarious tasks intended to preserve and protect the environment and consisting of experts,” it said.
Justice Lokur who penned down the verdict for the bench said that any contrary view or compromise in the appointments would render the exercise undertaken by all these committees completely irrelevant and redundant. “While it is beyond the jurisdiction of the NGT and also beyond our jurisdiction to lay down specific rules and guidelines for recruitment of the Chairperson and members of the SPCBs, we are of opinion that there should be considerable deliberation before an appointment is made and only the best should be appointed to the SPCB,” the bench said.
The court, however, cautioned that the state governments do not have “unlimited discretion” or power to appoint anybody that it chooses to do. Referring to the direction of NGT for issuing guidelines for appointment of officials in SPCBs, the bench said “it is for each State Government to consider and decide what is the right thing to do under the circumstances – should an unqualified or inexperienced person be appointed or should the SPCB be a representative but expert body?”
The bench, however, clarified that those officials who were removed pursuant to the order of the NGT, have an independent cause of action and they can challenge their removal in appropriate and independent proceedings. “This is an issue between the removed official and the State Government – the removal is not a public interest issue and we cannot reverse the situation,” the bench said in a verdict on a batch of appeals against the verdict of green panel.
The apex court however agreed with the NGT’s view that appointments in SPCBs, should not be made casually or without due application of mind, considering the duties, functions and responsibilities of these boards. “There can be no doubt that protection and preservation of the environment is extremely vital for all of us and unless this responsibility is taken very seriously, particularly by the State Governments and the SPCBs, we are inviting trouble that will have adverse consequences for future generations,” it said.