PANAJI: High Court of Bombay at Goa has referred Goa Foundation’s plea seeking activation of the non-functioning NGT Western Zone Bench to a larger bench.
The Goa Foundation had filed a PIL challenging the non-functioning of the Western Zone Bench, and also the constitution of special benches by the Northern Zone bench.
The Western Zone bench has been inoperative from 4.1.2022, ever since the resignation of its judicial member. The Supreme Court of India, by its order dated 31.01.2018, had disallowed single-member benches from functioning, as this would be contrary to the NGT statute. However, even before the incapacitation of the Western Zone bench, select matters were being taken out of its jurisdiction and heard by the Northern Zone bench.
The Petitioner has also alluded to the earlier judgement dated 11.20.2017 of the Bombay High Court, which had allowed several PILs challenging the transfer of Goa environmental matters from the Western Zone to the Principal (or Northern Zone) bench, and quashed and set aside the notification issued by the Ministry of Environment & Forests & CC permitting the transfer in this regard.
As per the statutory scheme of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2011, and the Rules framed thereunder, it is only the Central Government which has the power to specify the territorial jurisdiction of a particular Bench of the NGT, and consequently, the matters to be taken up by that Bench arising from the territories specified to be within its jurisdiction.
The two orders are illegal and contribute to an absolutely arbitrary and ad hoc functioning of the Tribunal through these special benches – severely affecting the Petitioners and other citizens’ right to redressal of environmental issues and access to justice.