Govt's Latest NGT Appointments Raise Conflict of Interest Question

Photo: PTI

New Delhi: After tweaking the duration of the tenure of information officers, the government has now overlooked the rule to change the tenure of appointees in the National Green Tribunal, Indian Express reported on Thursday.  

Section 7 of the NGT Act, 2010 specifies that the chairperson, judicial members and expert members shall be appointed for a term of five years and shall not be reappointed. According to the report, the government has made a number of appointments for a period of three years or ‘until further orders,’ leaving the appointees with a sense of insecurity. 

This too goes against the NGT’s rules which state that a member can only be removed with the consultation of the Chief Justice of India and after an inquiry conducted by a judge in the Supreme Court. 

While the names are yet to be made official, Express has mentioned sources who have said that the new appointees will be the Additional Director General of Forest in the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Saibal Dasgupta, and Director General of Forests, Siddhanta Das. 

Also read: Nearly a Decade Old, Is the National Green Tribunal Losing its Bite?

Meanwhile, Das himself has admitted that he still has a few months to go before retirement from his position at the ministry. “I cannot comment on why the term is three years. Yes, I have about eight months till retirement. So, I will discuss with the [NGT] chairman and decide what to do. One needs to serve three-month notice for voluntary retirement,” he told the English daily. 

Many matters that reach the NGT are challenges to decisions taken by the ministry that Dasgupta and Das are working for. According to senior lawyer Ritwick Dutta, who focuses on cases related to the environment, this raises questions of conflict of interest. 

“It is a clear case of conflict of interest,” he told The Wire. “To put it in simple terms, the Director General of Forest chairs the Forest Advisory Committee which grants approval for diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes which also includes the Additional Director General of Forest (Forest Conservation). As per the NGT Act, 2010 an appeal against the grant of forest clearances lies before the National Green Tribunal,” he said.

“Thus, the two people who were part of the decision to grant approval will now sit to hear appeals against their own decision,” he added.

Earlier in 2017 the Centre had attempted to change the manner in which members of the NGT are appointed, giving itself complete control. But, the Supreme Court had stayed the move noting ‘excessive executive influence’. The apex court had also said that rules under the NGT Act, 2010, should be followed for appointments and terminations.