‘Backdated’ appointment of 4 NGT judicial members, 2 expert members

In an unprecedented move, the government has issued a notification for appointment of four judges as Judicial Members and two subject experts as Expert Members to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) with each having an appointment date from the year 2021.

Strange as it may sound, but all the four Judicial Members have been functioning as NGT judges since the respective dates of appointment — April 2021 and May 2021 — as mentioned in the notification, leading to a potentially serious situation wherein the decisions/judgements passed by them can be null and void.

And, as if that was not enough, one of the Judicial Members had even demitted office on December 15, six days before the notification for his appointment was issued.

Two notifications published by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on Friday — separate for Judicial Members and Expert Members — dated December 21, 2021, mention that all six appointments are made in exercise of the powers conferred by sub-sections (1) and (3) of section 6, read with section 7 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (19 of 2010).

The Judicial Members include both retired and serving High Court judges who have been appointed as NGT judges.

Sudhir Agarwal, former Judge of High Court of Allahabad, has been appointed as the Judicial Member of the National Green Tribunal with effect from the April 6, 2021; Justice M Sathyanarayanan, Judge of High Court of Madras, with effect from the May 17, 2021; Justice B Amit Sthalekar, Judge of High Court of Allahabad, with effect from April 7, 2021, and Justice Brijesh Sethi, Judge of High Court of Delhi, with effect from April 6, 2021.

The notification mentions that these four appointments are for a period of four years or till the judge attains the age of 67 years or till further orders, whichever is earliest.

As per the second notification, Dr Arun Kumar Verma, former PCCF, Government of Gujarat, and Similarly, Dr K Satyagopal, former DG, National Institute of Plant Health Management, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Hyderabad, have been appointed as the Expert Members of the NGT, again with similar tenure conditions as that of judicial members.

Legal experts have expressed apprehension about the appointment.

“I have never heard of such a thing. There is no logic to it,” said Ritwick Dutta, environmental lawyer and founder of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE).

Senior Advocate Pinaki Mishra, Biju Janata Dal leader and Member of Parliament from Odisha called it as a mysterious development.

“These judges had been functional since April or May and may have passed hundreds of judgements, given scores of orders. If the appointment notification is issued now, all of them are liable to be null and void.”

The two notifications are issued in the name of Rajasree Ray, Economic Advisor with the MoEF&CC. When IANS contacted Ray, she declined to speak saying her role had changed in the Ministry. Some other officials that IANS approached too did not respond positively. Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav’s version is awaited.

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