In an article ‘Appellate Authorities Under Pollution Control Laws In India: Powers, Problems And Potential’, authored by legal and environmental experts, and published in a reputed professional journal ‘Law, Environment and Development Journal’ in 2018, authors Shibani Ghosh, Sharachchandra Lele and Nakul Heble laid down that ideally, the effectiveness of a state appellate authority â€œwould be judged by analysing the cases heard (and not heard), decisions delivered, time taken to decide appeals, and the extent of implementation of the decisions.â€
The Environment Appellate Authority in Haryana, a statutory body, adjudicating on the State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB), Panchkula, headed by Justice SD Anand, former Judge, Punjab & Haryana High Court, with Maj Gen (retd) Harish Jit Singh (Shaurya Chakra, Vishisht Seva Medal) and Dr Sukhdev Kundu (Ph.D Environmental Science) as Judge members, appears to be scoring high on all these parameters, thus setting the pace for the other states.
Photo By : Life In Chandigarh
Despite basic infrastructure and staff constraints, it goes to the credit of the appellate authority that it has been successful in disposing of 95% of the total appeals filed before it. The appeal is heard the very next working day of filing and the appellate authority is reputed for disposing of the appeals in less than a month. Remarkably, all judgements have been unanimous, and so watertight that only 4 to 5% of these have been challenged before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and Supreme Court of India.
Judge members Maj Gen (retd) Harish Jit Singh and Dr Sukhdev Kundu do not hide being in awe of Justice Anand because of his honesty, integrity and his open book style of functioning, which they claim inspires them to be innovative in the matter of interpretation of the applicable law of the land. Justice Anand, likewise acknowledges that this level of performance of the authority could not have been possible without valuable contributions from the entire team.
Justice Anand asserts that in its judgements, the appellate authority, besides announcing the law by way of interpretation, has not flinched from pointing out procedural aberrations on the part of the (HSPCB) functionaries, including its Member Secretary and a former Chairman.
The state government has also acted to reconstitute the HSPCB, by re-nominating the official and non-official members in the past, when the appellate authority wrote to it that the board had not been constituted properly, Judge Member Maj.Gen. (retd) HJ Singh and Dr Sukhdev Kundu add.
It is also a fact that the HSPCB stands indicted by the appellate authority in a majority of the cases for its erroneous functioning. But it is not that it is always the appellants who win.
In a proactive action, the authority nailed the lies of a real estate developer, Ansal Housing and Construction Ltd. (which had sworn its position on affidavit), by seeking satellite imagery of the construction site of the relevant date from the National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad. The real estate company had appealed against the HSPCB for rejecting its plea for consent.
The board had taken the premise that the developer had raised constructions (civil work, including excavation, basement and 14 floors on a site measuring 10.53 acres) even before seeking the consent. Subsequently, the authority rejected Ansal’s plea for withdrawing the appeal, and dismissed the appeal on merit.
The authority had also directed HSPCB to proceed against the developer in this case for raising the constructions in violation of the environmental clearance, but action, if any, taken by the board against the developer is not known.
The appellate authorities were constituted in states as part of a central environmental grievances redressal system. Their primary function is to decide on appeals against orders issued by the State Pollution Control Board (SPCBs). The authority in Haryana has been dealing with cases related to mining, stone crushers, industries, real estate developers and oil refinery. It takes up appeals under the central laws, namely Water Act (1974) and Air Act (1981).
Many states are yet to constitute these authorities. Some states have bureaucrats presiding over these authorities, or holding position of a judge member. Haryana is among the few states to have a full complement of three members with a retired High Court judge presiding, which is an ideal situation.
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