By Siddhant Sharma, Amity Law School, Jaipur.
The setting up of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) was a result of lack of expert knowledge needed to settle cases relating to environmental issues.
Indian Courts had been entertaining environmental issues by the means of writs and PILs, but the technicalities were missed by the judiciary as expert knowledge is a must to decide such cases. The rise of environmental issues increased after the very well-known interpretation of the judiciary saying that ‘Right to clean and healthy environment’ is part of our fundamental rights (the same being interpreted within the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution of India). This was when the Courts directed expert committees that if any environmental issue knocks the Court of Law, the committee would prepare a report for the court’s interpretation. But such reports of the expert committees were not interpreted in technical terms by the court of law, thus defeating the whole point of setting up such committees. In cases like-
- M.C. Mehta Vs. Union of India, 1986;
- Indian Council for Environmental-Legal Action Vs. Union of India, 1996;
- A.P. Pollution Control Board Vs. M.V Naydu 1999;
- A.P. Pollution Control Board Vs. M.V Naydu II, 2001,
The Supreme Court emphasized on one common point that, ‘it is a very important and prominent time to set up Environmental Courts’. The 186th report of Law Commission of India also emphasized on starting of environmental courts in the light of the 3rd case judgment from the above cited cases. The report also referred to countries like Australia, and New Zealand etc. where Environmental Courts had been established.[i]
Essentials points in the 186th report of Law Commission of India-
- The report recommended the establishment of the NGT in every state for dealing environment disputes and having appellate jurisdiction in respect of appeals under the various Pollution Control Laws.
- Such courts should have the powers of a civil court in their original jurisdiction, set for reducing the burden on the High court’s and Supreme Court.
- These courts should not be bound with the rules of civil procedure code and evidence under the Indian evidence act.
- The court follows the principle of natural justice and applies the doctrine of public trust, strict liability, polluter pays etc.
India is only the third country to have such a structure. The National Green Tribunal bill, 2009 was introduced by then Environment and Forest Minister, Sri Jairam Ramesh in the lok sabha on July 29, 2009.[ii] It was established on 18th October 2010, under the NGT act 2010, passed by the central government.
The NGT is a specialized body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues. Its objective is to provide a specialized forum for effective and speedy disposal of cases pertaining to environment protection, conservation of forests and for seeking compensation for damages caused to people or property due to violation of environmental laws or conditions specified while granting permissions. NGT is India’s first dedicated environmental court with a wide jurisdiction to deal with not only violations of environmental laws, but also to provide for compensation, relief and restoration of the ecology in accordance with the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle and powers to enforce the ‘precautionary principle’.[iii]
Structure of NGT–
Following the enactment of the NGT, the Principal Bench of the NGT has been established in the National Capital – New Delhi, with regional benches in
- Pune (Western Zone Bench)
- Bhopal (Central Zone Bench)
- Chennai (Southern Bench) and
- Kolkata (Eastern Bench).
Each Bench has a specified geographical jurisdiction covering several States in its region. There is also a mechanism for circuit benches. For example, the Southern Zone bench, which is based in Chennai, can decide to have sittings in other places like Bangalore or Hyderabad.
The Chairperson of the NGT is a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, Head Quartered in Delhi. (Shri Justice L.S. Panta, Former Judge of the Supreme Court was appointed as the first Chairperson of the NGT,[iv] Hon’ble Mr. Justice Swatanter Kumar being the present chairperson). Other Judicial members are retired Judges of High Courts. Each bench of the NGT comprises of at least one Judicial Member and one Expert Member. Expert members should have a professional qualification and a minimum of 15 years experience in the field of environment/forest conservation and related subjects.[v]
Under Rule 22 of the NGT Rules, there is a provision for reviewing a decision/Order of the NGT. If the review fails, such an order/decision can be challenged before the Supreme Court within ninety days of such review.
Some of the most notable orders given by the NGT are:
- Yamuna Conservation Zone- on 25 April 2014, The NGT said that the health of Yamuna will be affected by the proposed recreational facilities on the river. The NGT also recommended the Government to declare a 52 km stretch of the Yamuna in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh as a conservation zone.
- Coal Blocks in Chhattisgarh Forests- the National Green Tribunal cancelled the clearance given by the then Union Environment and Forests Minister, Jairam Ramesh, to the Parsa East and Kante-Basan captive coal blocks in the Hasdeo-Arand forests of Chhattisgarh, overruling the statutory Forest Advisory Committee.
The forest clearance was given by Mr. Ramesh in June 2011, overriding the advice of the Ministry’s expert panel on the two blocks for mining by a joint venture between Adani and Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited. The blocks requiring 1,989 hectares of forestland fell in an area that the government had initially barred as it was considered a patch of valuable forest and demarcated as a ‘no-go’ area.[vi]
India at present faces a huge challenge accounting for the millions that are affected each year by national development projects. In addition to this, industries are a burgeoning factor in the Indian economic scene so one cannot sensibly ask for capping such endeavours as they are spearheading the economic development of this still developing nation. Also the largest industries have the best lawyers in their pockets, and the others are unaccounted for. Therefore the only way to ensure the success of the NGT is a well-defined, and at this stage draconian means of judgement.[vii]
[i] ‘Assessment of work of national green tribunal’, June 2014 http://www.socialwatch.org/sites/default/files/swindia/Gujarat-Social-Watch-Report-2014.pdf
[ii] ‘How green would be the green tribunal’ http://www.law.pace.edu/sites/default/files/IJIEA/How_Green_will_be_the_Green_Tribunal.pdf
[iii] Supra, note 1
[iv] National Green Tribunal (NGT) of India, http://www.greenworldinvestor.com/2011/07/04/national-green-tribunal-ngt-of-india-what-you-need-to-know-historychallengescircuit-benchesnecessity/
[vii] ‘Is the NGT an open or closed law?’ https://www.academia.edu/6162330/Analysis_of_National_Green_Tribunal_Act_2010