CHENNAI: The fate of the Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) hangs in balance with the tribunal shutting down all its zonal benches in Pune, Bhopal and Kolkata and asking the members to come back to New Delhi. It has been over a month since the NGT Bench in Chennai saw any proceedings and the list of pending cases rose to 600.
Earlier, there were reports that the NGT chairperson would send a judicial member to infuse life back into the Chennai bench, but that seems to be unlikely now.
There has been a spurt in activity over the last one week after the Supreme Court ordered that single-judge benches cannot hear and decide matters in the NGT. A series of office orders were then issued. Firstly, NGT acting chairman Justice U D Salvi ordered that a single-member bench shall not be held in any zonal bench and the next day, another order was issued exercising powers conferred under Rule 3 of the NGT Act (Financial and Administrative Powers), 2011, and transferred all four of its members from Pune (Justice Jawad Rahim), Bhopal (Justice Raghuvendra S Rathore, judicial member and Satyawan Singh Garbyal, expert member) and Kolkata (Justice S P Wangdi) zonal benches to the Principal Bench, New Delhi.
On February 6, the NGT registrar issued another office order overhauling courts in the principal bench. Justice Rahim and Nagin Nanda were appointed as judicial member and expert member of court-1 respectively. Justice Wangdi and Garbyal were appointed as judicial member and expert member for court-2. With this, all zonal benches are virtually scrapped.
The Southern Bench in Chennai, the busiest of all zonal benches, came to a standstill after last judicial member M S Nambiar retired on February 2. Several high-profile cases such as Ennore oil spill are pending. Now, with no dedicated forum to deal with environmental issues, the NGT Bar Association said that it is likely that the petitioners would approach the Madras High Court for justice. “Still, cases are coming for admission. It’s only a matter of time that people lose faith in the tribunal,” a senior advocate said.