Tamil Nadu

Madras HC stays appointment of former Chief Secretary to National Green Tribunal

The Madras High Court on Friday stayed the operation of an order passed by the Centre on December 12, 2020, appointing former Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan as an Expert Member of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The interim stay was granted after it was reported to the court that she had planned to take charge on April 19.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy wrote that public interest litigant G. Sundarrajan of the environmental voluntary group Poovulagin Nanbargal, represented by counsel M. Radhakrishnan, had “prima facie made out a strong case that the third respondent [Ms. Vaidyanathan] does not meet the eligibility criteria for being appointed as an Expert Member of the NGT”.

The judges said the former Chief Secretary did not appear to have five years of experience in dealing with environmental matters either in the Central government or in a State government or in any national or State institution, as stipulated under Section 5(2)(b) of the NGT Act, 2010.

The first Division Bench pointed out that the Act lists the qualifications required to be appointed as the Chairperson, Judicial Member as well as Expert Member of NGT. According to the law, the Expert Member must have had administrative experience of 15 years, including five years in dealing with environmental matters in the Central or State government or in a reputed national or State institution.

There was no dispute that Ms. Vaidyanathan had 15 years of administrative experience. However, her experience in environment matters appeared to be doubtful, the judges said. They pointed out that even in her counter-affidavit, she had claimed to have served as Environment and Forest Secretary between December 2001 and August 2002 and as chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board between November 2003 and May 2005.

“It is evident that the third respondent has more than three-and-a-half years’ experience in dealing with environmental matters... It is possible that the third respondent may have dealt with environmental matters in course of the various other departments that she headed or was attached with, but it is necessary for her to indicate the same for the court to be satisfied that the statutory eligibility criterion in such regard is met by her,” the Bench observed.

More importantly, information with respect to her having dealt with environmental matters while heading other departments must have been available with the selection panel which chose her.

Though the Act had not specifically defined the expression, ‘environmental matters’, the judges agreed with Mr. Radhakrishnan that the court could take its cue from Section 5(2(a) wherein practical experience in pollution control, hazardous substance management, environment impact assessment, climate change management, biological diversity management and forest conservation had been listed as qualifications for appointment as an Expert Member.

The report has been updated to reflect the correct initials in the name of the litigant and description of their organisation.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 7:51:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/madras-hc-stays-appointment-of-former-chief-secretary-to-national-green-tribunal/article34286181.ece

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