The appointment of former IAS officer, Girija Vaidyanathan, as Expert Member in the Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), was challenged in the Madras High Court.
Even though the court initially granted an interim stay on her appointment, it ruled that she was not ineligible, going by the criteria in the NGT Act.
She was found to have fulfilled the eligibility requirements by virtue of her administrative experience of nearly five years in “dealing with environmental matters”.
Importance of technical expertise within NGT
The establishment of tribunals as adjudicatory bodies in specific fields is based on the idea that specialisation and expertise are required to decide complex cases of a technical nature.
The ‘tribunalisation’ of justice is driven by the recognition that it would be cost-effective, accessible and give scope for utilising expertise in the respective fields.
Central to this scheme is the principle that the ‘experts’ appointed to these tribunals should bring in special knowledge and experience.
Criteria for NGT appointments
The Act spells out two kinds of criteria —
one based on qualifications and practical experience- a masters’ or a doctorate in science, engineering or technology, with 15 years’ experience in the relevant field, including 5 in environment and forests in a national level institution, is needed.
The fieldsinclude:pollution control, hazardous substance management and forest conservation.
On the other hand, the administrative experience criterion is shorn of detail, and merely stipulates 15 years’ experience, of which five should have been in “dealing with environmental matters” in either the Centre or the State or any reputed institution.
Even though Ms. Vaidyanathan’s stint as Secretary, Environment and Forests, Tamil Nadu, and Chairperson of the State Pollution Control Board together amounted to only 28 months, the court accepted the contention that her tenure as Health Secretary should also be considered.
View of the court
The court rightly declined to interfere with the appointment, as the equivalence found in the rules falls under the domain of Parliament.
It would be salutary if the government spelt out with clarity, as the court has suggested, the extent to which a bureaucrat’s involvement in environmental matters could be regarded as equivalent to expertise.
It should also show greater urgency in implementing earlierSupreme Court directions to constitute a National Tribunals Commission to supervise the appointment and functioning of tribunals.