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NGT terminates chairmen of pollution control boards in 10 states (downtoearth,)

Cracking the whip on 10 State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) for ad-hoc appointments, the National Green Tribunal has ordered the termination of Chairpersons of these regulatory authorities. The concerned states are Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Rajasthan, Telangana, Haryana, Maharashtra and Manipur. The order was given last week by the principal bench of the NGT, chaired by Justice Swatanter Kumar.

The recent order of June 8, 2017, comes as a follow-up to an NGT judgment given in August 2016. In that judgment, the NGT had issued directions on appointments of Chairmen and Member Secretaries of the SPCBs, emphasising on crucial roles they have in pollution control and abatement. It then specified required qualifications as well as tenure of the authorities. States were required to act on the orders within three months and frame Rules for appointment [See Box: Highlights of the NGT judgment of 2016 on criteria for SPCB chairperson appointment].

Having failed to act on the order, the states have now been hauled up for the continued employment of under-qualified Chairpersons.

Faulty appointments of SPCB chairpersons

The Tribunal found the appointment of the chairpersons problematic, particularly in two respects.

Firstly, they were not suitably qualified. The bench noted that some of the chairpersons are “bureaucrats and politicians” and lack the required qualification and expertise to head an important body like the SPCB. Particular reference was made to the states of Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. This is despite the fact that the Water Act (1974) and the Air Act (1981)—the two cornerstone legislations guiding the appointments of the SPCB personnel— clearly emphasise the need for having chairpersons who have “special knowledge or practical experience in respect of matters relating to environmental protection”.  In fact, the Tribunal called the appointments “illegal” as they do not fulfil the requirements of the laws.

Secondly, chairpersons have often been appointed on temporary basis.  Such “stop-gap” arrangement in all likelihood can affect the necessary engagement the position entails for effective functioning of SPCB and fulfilling its responsibilities. The bench emphasised that “only duly qualified persons, with fixed tenure, are required to be appointed”.

Meanwhile, Delhi, Punjab and UP get more time

Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Delhi, the three other states under radar, have been spared for the time being. Observing that these three states had taken account of the NGT directions issued last August and were in the process of framing the appropriate Rules for appointments in the SPCBs/ Pollution Control Committee (PCC), the tribunal gave them additional time. Three months have now been granted to these three states to complete framing of rules and appointing the appropriate chairperson.

Highlights of the NGT judgment of August 2016 on criteria for SPCB chairperson appointment

States should constitute SPCBs in strict adherence to the provisions of the Water Act (Section 4) and the Air Act (Section 5), which outline the appointments of the SPCBs.
The chairpersons should be competent and eligible with requisite knowledge or practical experience in the field of environment protection and pollution control, with experience of management.
The Chairpersons should have special knowledge or practical experience or qualification in environment protection studies. They could not be appointed by virtue of their earlier designation in service of the state government such as the Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary, Environment Secretary or even politician like former Speaker, Minister, M L A, all literary persons and non-technical persons.
State governments should expeditiously notify the rules under Water and Air Act specifying the qualifications and experiences required for the post of chairperson (and Member Secretary).
Nominated chairperson should have a fixed term of office which should not be extended for more than one term.
Chairperson (and Member Secretary) should have full tenure, unaffected by bureaucratic and political interference.
The state governments (and all competent authorities) should makeappointment/nomination within three months

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