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‘NGT acting at behest of State, Central authorities’
With the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Southern Bench functioning through video conference, advocates claim that the State and Central authorities are using the lockdown to further delay the filing of reports in cases pending for years. They rued that the tribunal is blaming the “lethargic attitude of the officials”, while nothing has changed on the ground.
“We’ve lost hope on the tribunal due to its inefficiency. They are simply constituting a committee comprising the State authorities to look into environmental violations. But it was the authorities who allowed the violation to continue for years. We have pleaded for an independent expert committee in many cases, but in vain,” said a city-based advocate who has around 70 cases pending in the southern bench of NGT.
He said the tribunal can’t pull up the officials for their lethargic attitude. “The tribunal has become a lost ground and I have stopped filing cases. The officials who have to submit a report to the tribunal would try to mitigate the circumstances since they are also part of the wrongdoing.”
Take the case of Nanjarayan Lake (in Tirupur) pollution, pending since 2017. The tribunal had constituted a joint committee in December 2019, comprising various department officials to look into polluting factors and remedial measures to restore the lake. It was asked to submit a report identifying the culprits and assess the compensation to be recovered.
“When the matter was taken up for hearing on March 18, the committee sought additional time. Tribunal bench headed by judicial member Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert member Saibal Dasgupta expressed dissatisfaction over the lethargic manner in which the committee was proceeding.
“On May 11, the case was taken up via video conference. TN Pollution Control Board again submitted that they want one more month for filing the report. Considering the pandemic, the tribunal postponed the hearing to June 18,” the order said.
Activist Jayaram Venkatesan of Arappor Iyakkam said his petition on Villivakkam lake encroachment has been pending since 2017. “Authorities want to set up a sewage treatment plant there. How can they build something when the demand is to restore the water body?” he asks.
Senior HC advocate and environmental activist, who preferred anonymity, said, “The tribunal has become accommodative to the State and Central authorities. Unlike the HC, it doesn’t have the contempt power to pull up officials, the reason for the latter’s lethargic approach. The Centre has created the tribunal as it didn’t want the courts to handle the environmental issues. Retired bureaucrats and former justices are hearing the cases in the tribunal and State authorities are dodging them. Only in a few serious cases, the tribunal has acted so far.”