Bombay HC Full Bench Quashes Notices Transferring ''Cherry Picked'' NGT Cases From Goa to Delhi
Moneylife Digital Team 23 September 2022
In a judgement that is expected to have far-reaching consquences, a three-judge bench of the Bombay High Court at Goa has quashed and set aside the orders of the registrar of the national green tribunal (NGT) regarding setting up and functioning of a special bench in Delhi, which has been hearing certain cases related to Goa, instead of the western zonal bench, Pune. 
 
The High Court (HC) has also reiterated its 'recommendation' that a special circuit bench of the NGT be set up in Goa to hear Goa-related matters, especially considering that “the environmental concerns of Goa have been pivotal in shaping the face of environmental law in this country.”
 
The Court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Goa Foundation, an environment monitoring group based in the state, contesting the five administrative notices issued by NGT registrars between 6 September 2021 and 26 August 2022, placing the matters before the western zonal bench in Pune before the special bench in Delhi. Advocate Norma Alvares appeared for the petitioner.
 
The HC held this special bench seated at New Delhi to be 'illegal' and stated that “only the members of the western zonal bench can hear matters pertaining to the western zonal bench, including matters arising from Goa and Maharashtra.” 
 
It also found no question of any administrative exigency “in having matters—unknown, unspecified and with no clarity—being selectively taken and cherry-picked for listing before any so-called special bench.” 
 
Stating that environmental concerns of Goa have been “pivotal in shaping the face of environmental law in this country,” the HC reiterated the need to set up a circuit bench of the NGT in Panaji, at the 'nerve-centre of this environmental litigation'. “This is the only way that true access to justice can be achieved; and access to justice has been held to be a 'part and parcel of the right to life'. That purpose is not achieved by taking courts further and further away from litigants, lawyers and the very people who come to the NGT to seek environmental justice. It is most appropriately achieved by bringing courts of law to the litigants’ doors. This, in our view, is best done by establishing a circuit bench at the nerve-centre of this environmental litigation,” the HC stated.
 
The Court also ruled that in order to decide matters, it was required by the statute that a regular bench must have always one expert member and one judicial member. The Court said there was no sanction for  a bench comprising five members (three judicial members and two expert members which was invariably the constitution of the special benches challenged).
 
Justice Patel, who wrote the judgement, had earlier in 2017 struck down an order of the ministry of environment and forests, transferring the jurisdiction of Goa matters to the Delhi NGT. He repeated his recommendation made earlier that Goa needs a circuit bench at Goa and that persons who want to approach the NGT would be best suited if a circuit bench is set up in Goa. 
 
“We, therefore, reaffirm such recommendation, that far from moving Goa-centric matters away from Pune, every endeavour must be made to set up a circuit bench in Panaji. This is the only way that true access to justice can be achieved, and access to justice has been held to be a ‘part and parcel of the right to life” said the HC bench.
 
It reminded authorities of the HC judgement of 11 October 2017, which recommended that the authorities must consider in all seriousness a proposal to establish a circuit bench at Panaji in Goa. 
 
The HC found all the five notices of the NGT to be ultra-vires the NGT Act and Procedure Rules and found them lacking transparency and accountability. “Nobody knows which case will go to the special bench and which will not, or which might cycle back, when, or why,” the HC stated. 
 
Counsel Norma Alvares, who represented Goa Foundation with Om D’Costa submitted that the five notices resulted in cases from Goa that were being heard by the western zonal bench of the NGT at Pune being abruptly taken up, for no good reason and without clarity as to which case would be taken and when, by a so-called 'special bench' sitting in New Delhi.
Comments
rodney
3 days ago
Truly a just judgement.
saharaaj
4 days ago
centralization for economic efficiency . Why over crowd , crowded Delhi
Meenal Mamdani
4 days ago
Justice Patel's observations are very pertinent. His rulings have always cut out the non-essential parts focusing on what is the crux of the case.
I hope that he gets to be CJI at the Supreme Court one day.
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