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Suo-Motu Powers of National Green Tribunal

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  • 13 Oct 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

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.

Key Points

  • 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.
  • About National Green Tribunal:
    • 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.
    • The NGT Act provided a specialized role to the tribunal to act on issues where a dispute arose under seven specified laws (mentioned in Schedule I of the Act): The Water Act, The Water Cess Act, The Forest Conservation Act, Air Act, Environment Protection Act, Public Liability Insurance Act and the Biological Diversity Act.
    • 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.
    • The Tribunal is headed by the Chairperson who sits in the Principal Bench and has at least ten but not more than twenty judicial members and at least ten but not more than twenty expert members.
    • Decisions of the Tribunal are binding. The Tribunal has powers to review its own decisions. If this fails, the decision can be challenged before the Supreme Court within ninety days.
  • Associated Challenges:
    • Persistent Vacancies: In the last nine years, the NGT has never got the minimum strength of ten judicial and ten expert members to address the increasing number of environmental litigations across the country.
    • Implementation of Orders: There are also serious challenges as far as implementation of the NGT’s orders is concerned.
      • The NGT Act specifies that the compensation amount as ordered by the tribunal should be remitted to the authority of the Environmental Relief Fund within a period of 30 days from the date of order.
      • However, it is observed that the polluters don’t abide by this rule.
      • Further, there is no institutional mechanism to ensure that the environmental regulatory authorities comply with the orders of the tribunal.
    • Appeals to Supreme Court: The NGT orders are increasingly challenged in the Supreme Court, where a heavy penalty has been imposed by the tribunal.

Way Forward

  • 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.

Source: TH

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