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Wait for green panel bench ends

The eastern bench of the National Green Tribunal, proposed to be set up in Calcutta three years ago, will finally open on May 24.

The bench, whose verdict can only be challenged in the Supreme Court, will adjudicate on cases related to “environment, forest and bio-diversity” in eastern and north-eastern India.

“The bench will start functioning from the Finance Centre in New Town from May 24,” said Asish Senapati, the registrar of the eastern zonal bench.

The jurisdiction of the bench — largest of all green tribunal benches — covers Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Metro had in November 2011 highlighted how the state government’s failure to provide space was delaying the setting up of the tribunal. This, despite a number of reminders to the state from the Union environment secretary.

The state government finally provided space for the tribunal on the third floor of Finance Centre in New Town in August 2013, after the Supreme Court threatened to shift the bench to Bhubaneswar or Guwahati.

A notification issued by the tribunal on May 12, a copy of which is with Metro, states that the registrar of the bench (for the eastern zone) has been authorised to “receive all the applications, appeals and all other documents including transfer applications, appeals… and (also) to issue notices to the parties concerned with effect from 24th of May, 2014, until further orders”.

The tribunal has “transferred” the ongoing green cases from eastern and northeastern India — which were being heard by the principal bench in Delhi — to the eastern bench.

The Calcutta bench will be led by judicial member Justice P. Jyothimani and expert member Prof P.C. Mishra.

“It’s a welcome move. The eastern bench was long due. I feel that with so many cases pending, the Centre should think about having a second bench in Calcutta,” observed green activist Subhas Datta.

“We hope the tribunal will be able to provide timely justice to people in cases related to environment violation. A large number of such cases are pending in the high court,” said Biswajit Mukherjee, former chief law officer of the state pollution control board.

Mukherjee expressed the hope that hapless people affected by various kinds of environment violations and are not being heard by the administration would benefit from the tribunal.

Tribunal sources said a bench takes on an average about six months to dispose of a case. The likely litigation cost is Rs 1,000. “If the members allow, a litigant may plead his or her case,” said an official of the bench.

Dutta said the authorities should ensure that documents related to green cases are transferred from the various high courts to the bench in time.

“It was a major issue when such documents were shifted to the tribunal’s principal bench in Delhi. There should not be a repetition of that during the transfer of the papers to the eastern bench.

The bench will function from Finance Centre (3rd Floor), Block III B, New Town , Calcutta 700157