In a recent move, the Government of India has revised the criteria for qualification, appointment and removal of chairpersons, presidents and members of 19 tribunals, appellate tribunals, commissions and boards. The revisions were done invoking provisions of the Finance Act, 2017 (Sections 183 and 184), which empowers the government to develop Rules on these aspects. There is a general feeling within the environmental community that this has been done to clip the wings of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the quasi-judicial body looking into various environmental violations and disputes.
A significant aspect of the new Rules is that they have paved the way for experts and administrators to occupy the position of the chairperson of NGT. The NGT Act, 2010 and the Rules framed under it had specified that only someone who has been either a judge of the Supreme Court or the Chief Justice of a High Court can be appointed as chairperson. The new Rules broaden the eligibility criteria significantly. Now, a person who has been a judicial or expert member of the NGT for three years, or anyone with 'ability, integrity, standing and special knowledge of, and professional experience of not less than twenty-five years in law including five years’ practical experience in the field of environment and forests' will also be eligible for the chairperson’s position.
The government’s new criteria ensure the bureaucracy will have a bigger say in selecting the chairperson and expert member. The five-member committee tasked with selecting the chairperson and the judicial members will now include two secretaries of the Indian government (instead of one as was the case until now). The judiciary will have no role in the selection of expert members. Also, the Centre will now have more control on removal of any NGT member. As per the new provisions, the government will only seek inputs from a committee constituted by it on this matter, as opposed to consulting the Chief Justice of India, as per the NGT Act.