The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the chairperson of National Green Tribunal not to constitute single-member benches to hear cases as had been authorised by the central government through a notification in December last year.
The bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said: “Let us tell you very candidly. We cannot allow single-judge benches (at NGT).” Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud were the other judges on the bench.
The rules of the NGT Act mandate the chairperson to constitute a bench of “two or more members consisting of at least one judicial member and one expert member”. However, as not enough appointments had been made, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in December last year issued a notification amending the rules to enable the constitution of a single-member benches “in exceptional circumstances”.
The NGT Bar Association of the western zone in Pune challenged the notification in the Supreme Court, saying it violated the NGT Act.
The apex court has not at this point quashed the government notification.
According to the NGT Act, 2010, the tribunal should have “not less than ten” and up to 20 “full-time” judicial members and between 10 and 20 expert members. However, for most of its life, the NGT has remained understaffed. Currently, there are four judicial members and two expert members on the tribunal. Only a judge of a high court or Supreme Court can be a judicial member on the tribunal. Expert members need to have been in any environment related field with at least 15 years of administrative experience. The bench asked Attorney-General K K Venugopal to advise the NGT’s acting chairperson against setting up a single-judge bench.