With a growing concern environmental degradation and climate, the relevance of National Green Tribunal has been highlighted in this article. It is one of the important topics for IAS Mains also. The IAS aspirants must have the understanding of NGT’s jurisdiction and how it pronounces its judgments on the cases of environmental degradation and climate change in any way.
In India, the National Green Tribunal acts as an important player in Indian environmental regulation. The Supreme Court of India in its series of judgment highlighted the need of setting up of special environmental courts, the first one being in 1986 in the Oleum Gas Leak case, and by the Law Commission of India in its 186th report in 2003. Finally, for effective and swift disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources, the National Green Tribunal (under NGT Act 2010) was established on 18 October 2010.
NGT is a specialised category body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle multi-disciplinary environmental disputes including enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The body is not bound to follow the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but shall be guided by principles of natural justice. Initially, it was proposed to set up at five places of sittings and will follow circuit procedure for making itself more accessible. The principal place of sitting is located in Delhi whereas Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai are the others four places of sitting of the Tribunal.
There are six members in the Tribunal, a mix of persons with a legal/judicial background and those with knowledge and expertise in environmental issues or with administrative experience. The Tribunal's dedicated jurisdiction in environmental matters related to the following:
• Speedy trial of environmental issues and disputes within 6 months of filling of the same
• Help to reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts
• Disposal of application or appeals within 6 months of filing of the same
NGT is not just an appellate body but it has original jurisdiction (to be the first judicial forum to hear a case) and wider than the previous quasi-judicial body, the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) with regard to the implementation of following seven environmental laws:
(i) The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
(ii) The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977
(iii) The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
(iv) The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
(v) The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
(vi) The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991
(vii) The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
However, the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is not included in its jurisdiction because cases arise under it are criminal cases.
Flexible Approach of NGT
Since its establishment in 2010, the Tribunal has pronounced some major judgments. The Tribunal has adopted several measures to answer the issue of delay in bringing matters to its notice; the first of its kind adopted is a liberal position where they keep the doors of NGT open for all seeking justice and provided law to challenge a decision of the government must approach the NGT within 30 days from the date on which the decision was made. An additional period of 60 days could be granted to approach the NGT; however, this delay would need to be explained to the Tribunal, which may or may not find “sufficient cause” for the delay. After a lapse of 90 days, no recourse lies in the NGT.
Landmark Judgments by NGT
The POSCO Case: It is one of the most important cases in NGT’s history. Posco, world’s fourth-largest steelmaker signed a MoU with the Odisha government to set up a 12-million-tonne-capacity steel project in Jagatsinghpur district and it was an attraction for the global media for being the biggest foreign direct investment in India. NGT suspended the Odisha Government’s order for the establishment of the plan and it is considered as a radical step in favour of the local communities and forests. By keeping its objective of establishment intact, Tribunal has pronounced the judgement on the ground to support sustainable development and valued local communities above economic profit from the project.
Goa Foundation Case: This was the landmark case through which NGT’s jurisdiction in all civil cases involving a considerable question of the environment was established. The petition was filed for the protection of the Western Ghats and requested for directions to the respondents to exercise the powers conferred upon them under the enactments stated in Schedule I to the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (for short “the NGT Act”) for preservation and protection of Western Ghats within the framework, as enunciated by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel in its report dated 31st August, 2012. The Tribunal directed the MoEF to file its reply on the report within 4 weeks.
Art of Living Festival on Yamuna Food Plain: NGT Panel has found that the organisers of the Art of Living Festival violated the environmental norms and it has severely damaged the food plane area at the bank of Yamuna River in Delhi. Earlier, the Government of Delhi and Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has permitted the Art of living festival organisers but it was an under some conditions. The NGT panel imposed a penalty of Rs. 5 Crore on Art of Living Foundation as environmental compensation after coming down heavily on the foundation for not disclosing its full plans. The panel also warned AOL Foundation that in case of failure to pay the penalised amount the grant of Rs.2.5 crore which the ministry of culture is supposed to pay AOL will be attached.
NGT is delivering its responsibility with its full integrity but it is still facing major institutional challenges. The first challenge is the lack proper infrastructure as it functions from two different premises. Second, the body should have minimum 10 judicial and expert members, out of which only 2 judicial members and 4 expert members have been appointed till date.
The number of environmental cases has been on the rise but due to lack of benches and infrastructure, the body is unable to pronounce its judgment on time. In the last few months around 80 cases have been filed in the NGT and all range from cases challenging environmental approvals granted to power projects, to those questioning governmental permission to use forest land, to issues of air and noise pollution.
The NGT is working and pronouncing its judgment brilliantly on the cases related to environmental issues and challenges. The government should make it more autonomous and efficient in a view to the growing concern regarding the environment and climate change. However, India is doing well when it comes to the environmental or climate change issue as compared to other developed and developing countries of the world.