The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) has cleared the appointment of an unspecified number of members in the National Green Tribunal for three years “or until further orders”. This flies in the face of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. Under NGT Rules, a Tribunal member has a fixed five-year tenure and cannot be removed without consulting the Chief Justice of India and an inquiry conducted by a judge of the Supreme Court.
While the ‘information note’ issued on September 2 does not name the appointees or the date of appointments, sources in the Environment Ministry said the new appointees are serving Director General of Forest Siddhanta Das and Additional Director General of Forest Saibal Dasgupta. The ACC note stated that necessary communication in this regard had been sent to the Environment Ministry.
“I cannot comment on why the term is for three years. Yes, I have about eight months till retirement. So I will discuss with the (NGT) Chairman and decide what to do. One needs to serve three-month notice for voluntary retirement,” Das told The Indian Express. Dasgupta, the other appointee, retires this month from the Ministry.
Earlier, in June 2017, the government had introduced the ‘Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2017’ through the Finance Act 2017.
The 2017 Rules were meant to change, among other things, the composition of the selection committee that helped the government pick members for the NGT, and the ways to remove Tribunal members.
In February 2018, the Supreme Court stayed the move, ruling that the terms and conditions for appointment and termination of NGT members would be governed by the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.
“This is wrong at many levels. First, serving Ministry officials are named as future Tribunal members where they will hear appeals against the decisions they take in the Ministry. Secondly, the five-year tenure is cut to three and that too dependent on further executive order. The government is telling the Tribunal members to serve at its pleasure,” a senior lawyer said.