Supreme Court bars single-judge bench hearing at NGT

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed against the constitution of single-judge benches in the National green Tribunal (NGT) for hearing of matters.

The Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra along with brother judges Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice D Y Chandrachud is hearing a petition filed by the NGT Bar Association challenging the constitutional validity of the National Green Tribunal (Practices and Procedures) Amendment Rules, 2017 that allows even a single member Bench to perform judicial functions. The Bench said: “Let us tell you very candidly. We cannot allow single judge Benches [at National Green Tribunal].”

The Bench asked Attorney General KK Venugopal to advise the Green Tribunal’s Acting Chairperson against setting up of a single judge Bench, either at the head branch or the zonal branches of the green tribunal.

Over Venugopal’s submission that there were a large number of vacancies in NGT, the top court said that even in that condition single member bench cannot be allowed to discharge judicial function.

According to the Times of India, Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Bar body, said that cases were being decided by members with no knowledge of law. He said, “If there is nobody at the NGT to hear cases, then can they resort to illegality? If NGT is not functional, send it back to High Courts. Scrap this tribunal.”

Rohtagi, speaking of vacancies in NGT, told the bench that there were only six out of 40 members and that government should have taken steps to fill up the vacancies.

The Court fixed the matter for hearing on March 12 asking Venugopal to advise the NGT Acting Chairperson not to set up a single member bench. It further said that the NGT benches should consist of one technical member and one judicial member each.

The Court had earlier agreed to hear the plea challenging the change in rules enabling even a single member bench of the NGT to discharge judicial function.

The functioning of the Green Tribunal has been hampered at its head and zonal benches due to non-filling of posts which fell vacant in recent past. The Tribunal is currently headed by Acting Chairperson Justice UD Salvi. Justice Swatanter Kumar, who was the Chairperson prior to Justice Salvi demitted office on December 19 last year.

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