National Green Tribunal left headless, farmers to file contempt case in Madras High Court
With the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) losing quorum following the retirement of expert member PS Rao, farmers attached to Loss of Ecology cases in Noyyal and Amaravathi river ba
CHENNAI: With the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) losing quorum following the retirement of expert member PS Rao, farmers attached to Loss of Ecology cases in Noyyal and Amaravathi river basins awaiting compensation for past 20 years for the pollution caused by bleaching and dying industries, are likely to file a contempt petition in the Madras High Court against the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
There are about 1.29 lakh compensation claim cases filed by farmers and other associations for the degradation caused by industrial pollution. The cases were part of the large batch of compensation cases pending before the now-redundant Loss of Ecology Authority (LoEA). The cases were never heard as the authority was defunct for several years without a Chairman and officially wound up by the Madras High Court later. All its functions were transferred to the southern bench of NGT.
However, now the survival of NGT itself is in question. The last judicial member MS Nambiar is scheduled to retire in January and with it the southern bench will be completely shut.
Advocate B Nagasaila, counsel for Noyyal Ramaswamy, one of the several petitioners fighting for compensation, said MoEF&CC has given an undertaking before the Madras High Court that a third and dedicated bench will be set up in NGT Chennai to hear the LoEA cases. “Though a provision of the third bench is made in the historic Kalas Mahal, there are no judges. The Centre has not filled the vacancies. We will file a contempt against the environment ministry in a week’s time,” she said.
Noyyal and Amaravathi basins have suffered due to pollution by dyeing and bleaching units. For instance, discharging industrial effluents into Noyyal river has made water unfit for irrigation and drinking. The pollution also adversely affected the Orathapalayam reservoir and other tanks and channels of the river.
Loss of Ecology Authority in its award pronounced on December 17, 2004 noted that 28,449.816 hectares in 68 villages comprised in seven taluks of Coimbatore, Erode and Karur districts were affected and assessed a compensation of `25 crore, which was challenged by the farmers in High Court. The same is the case with farmers from Amaravathi basin.
A source in the southern bench of NGT said there are about 544 pending cases. The central bench in Bhopal is also facing a similar threat with both its judicial members Raghuvendra S Rathore and expert member Satyawan Singh Garbyal due for retirement in January.
The Eastern Zone of NGT in Kolkata has also lost the quorum with the presence of only a judicial member SP Wangdi. The Western Zone in Pune has a full bench, comprising judicial member UD Salvi and expert member Nagin Nanda. At the principal bench in New Delhi, the NGT Chairman Justice Swatanter Kumar will retire on December 20 and another expert member Bikram Singh Sajwan will also retire in December first week. So, the principal bench will be left with one judicial member Jawad Rahim. Sources said a video conference was held recently to discuss the crisis.
An NGT advocate said a crucial hearing is coming-up before the Supreme Court on November 23. Congress leader Jayaram Ramesh had filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the provisions of Finance Act, 2017 which is allegedly diluting NGT Act. This has put the brakes on NGT appointments. “Until and unless Supreme Court passes an interim order allowing the Centre to fill the vacancies either under the new rules or the old rules, the fate of NGT hangs in the balance.”