Recently, the Supreme Court has declared the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) position as a “unique” forum endowed with suo motu (on its own motion) powers to take up environmental issues across the country.
What is the National Green Tribunal (NGT)?
It is a specialised body set up under the National Green Tribunal Act (2010) for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
With the establishment of the NGT, India became the third country in the world to set up a specialised environmental tribunal, only after Australia and New Zealand, and the first developing country to do so.
NGT is mandated to make disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing the same.
The NGT has five places of sittings, New Delhi is the Principal place of sitting and Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai are the other four.
Structure of NGT
The Tribunal comprises the Chairperson, the Judicial Members and Expert Members. They shall hold office for a term of five years and are not eligible for reappointment.
The Chairperson is appointed by the Central Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
A Selection Committee shall be formed by the central government to appoint the Judicial Members and Expert Members.
There are to be at least 10 and maximum 20 full time Judicial members and Expert Members in the tribunal.
Highlights of the Judgement:
Not limited to Adjudicating Role: The role of the NGT is not simply adjudicatory in nature. The Tribunal has to perform equally vital roles that are preventative, ameliorative or remedial in nature.
The functional capacity of the NGT is intended to leverage wide powers to do full justice in its environmental mandate.
Article 21 rights cannot stand on a narrow compass of interpretation. Article 21 of the constitution protects the right to life and personal liberty.
Multidisciplinary Role: NGT, as a complimentary, competent, specialised forum, to deal with all environmental multidisciplinary issues both as original and also as an appellate authority.
International Commitment: The NGT embodied the international obligation India owed to the environment.
The NGT has been recognised as one of the most progressive Tribunals in the world.
This jurisprudential leap has allowed India to enter a rather exclusive group of nations which have set up such institutions with broad powers.
Two important acts – Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 have been kept out of NGT’s jurisdiction. This restricts the jurisdiction area of NGT and at times hampers its functioning as the crucial forest rights issue is linked directly to the environment.
The NGT decisions are being challenged in various High Courts under Article 226 (power of High Courts to issue certain writs) with many asserting the superiority of a High Court over the NGT, claiming ‘High Court is a constitutional body while NGT is a statutory body’.” This is one of the weaknesses of the Act as there is lack of clarity about what kind of decisions can be challenged; even though according to the NGT Act, its decision can be challenged before the Supreme Court.
Decisions of NGT have also been criticised and challenged due to their repercussions on economic growth and development.
The absence of a formula based mechanism in determining the compensation has also brought criticism to the tribunal.
The decisions given by NGT are not fully complied by the stakeholders or the government. Sometimes its decisions are pointed out not to be feasible to implement within a given timeframe.
The lack of human and financial resources has led to high pendency of cases – which undermines NGT’s very objective of disposal of appeals within 6 months.
The justice delivery mechanism is also hindered by a limited number of regional benches.
There is a need for more autonomy and to widen NGT’s scope for effective protection of the environment in balance with human developmental activities.
The government needs to provide adequate financial and human resources — if it does not want the NGT to wither away.
NGT offers a path for the evolution of environmental jurisprudence by setting up an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. It helps reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts on environmental matters.