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New Delhi: Crippled by the delay in appointment of experts and judicial members, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is planning to conduct hearings through video-conferencing to decide the environmental cases pending in its regional benches.

The NGT’s functioning has been hit by vacancies. The apex environment watchdog is functioning with less than one-third of its sanctioned strength of 20 officials besides the chairperson.

Recently many cases from regional benches in Pune, Bhopal, Chennai and Kolkata have been transferred to the principal bench in Delhi due to non-availability of judicial and expert members.

Due to this, petitioners had to travel to Delhi to attend hearings which turned out to be a financial and physical burden on them.

A total of 3,236 cases were pending with the tribunal till April.

While 1,484 cases were pending before the principal bench in Delhi, the pendency of cases stood at 579 at the regional bench in Chennai, 580 in Pune, 325 in Bhopal and 268 in Kolkata.

Asked about the delay in appointments, a senior NGT official said the selection committee was looking into the issue and was likely to make appointments within the next month.

Till then, the tribunal is attempting to devise an interim mechanism to deal with the problem and hold hearings through video-conferencing, he said.

“We are planning to hold court hearings through video-conferencing in an interim basis. It’s only an interim arrangement till all members are available and the regional benches become functional.

“The idea is in a nascent stage and we are working on the details. Access to justice is a fundamental right of every citizen. Litigants should not suffer due to non-availability of judicial and expert members,” the NGT official said.

Welcoming the move, advocate Gaurav Bansal, an executive member in the National Green Tribunal Bar Association, told PTI that the proposed new initiative of conducting court proceedings through video-conferencing was a “landmark step” towards bringing justice to the doorsteps of people.

“This is a welcome step. The appointments in the NGT are pending since long. I think with the appointment of the NGT chairperson, things would now move faster. Hearing of cases through video-conferencing will bring justice at the doorsteps of people living in the far-flung areas,” Bansal said.

Another lawyer, Rahul Choudhary, said something needed to be done urgently to deal with the issue of appointments.

“The appointments should be made in an expeditious manner. Video-conferencing is indeed a very good step,” he said.


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