Written By – Sruthi Sadhasivam
India is the 1st developing country to establish a tribunal to deal with environmental affairs. The National Green Tribunal was established on 18th October 2010 through the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for handling cases regarding environmental protection, preservation of forests and natural resources.
The national green tribunal (NGT) comprises of a chairperson, appointed by the central government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and judicial and expert members are appointed by the selection committee formed by the central government. The members of the NGT are appointed for a period of 5 years and are ineligible for reappointment.
POWERS AND AREAS OF JURISDICTION OF NGT
The tribunal is bestowed with the power of original and appellate jurisdiction on cases regarding implementation of the seven environmental laws which includes Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. The tribunal has the power to deal with cases related to violation of the aforementioned laws or any decisions taken by the government pertaining to these laws.
The tribunal is a statutory body that deals only with civil cases and is barred from handling criminal cases. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 will not come under the purview of affairs managed by the tribunal.
The decisions and order of the tribunal is binding on all parties except in cases where the supreme court stays or reverses the order of the tribunal. The order or decisions of the tribunal equals to a decree of a civil court and thereby is implementable. In case of transgression of the tribunal’s order, the malefactors are liable for punishment of either a jail term extending up to 3 years or a fine of up to 10 crores or both.
The tribunal by issuing an order has the power to provide relief and compensation to the victims of environmental pollution and any other environmental destruction including any mishaps or misadventure in handling hazardous items. It can also extend relief and compensation for restoration of property damaged and restitution of environment in an area or areas as the tribunal may deem fit.
The tribunal will pass orders by taking into consideration the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle. Moreover, it is not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 but shall be guided by principles of ‘natural justice’.
RELEVANCE OF NGT
Several landmark judgements have been passed by the tribunal. Some of the historic interventions of the tribunal involve its 2015 order on barring all diesel vehicles over 10 years to ply in Delhi-NCR, as piling of plastic bags caused animal deaths, clogging sewers and environmental damage, the tribunal imposed an interim ban on plastic bags of less than 50-micron thickness in Delhi. In Almitra H. Patel vs. Union of India case, the tribunal promoted solid waste management by prohibiting open burning of waste materials in lands or landfills. Recently, in 2021, the Madras High Court had asked the petitioner to approach the NGT regarding a Smart City project in Erode.
The NGT is indeed the fastest and economical dispute settlement mechanism for environmental problems. It reduces the burden of cases in high courts by providing a judicial forum to handle environmental matters and is also supposed to dispose of cases within a period of 6 months.
Although, the environmental regulation body, NGT is criticised at various level, its operation is very much a necessity given the high rate of human induced environmental catastrophes such as climate change, global warming, contamination of water bodies, air pollution and many more. Furthermore, the role of the tribunal becomes all the more important in the backdrop of the environment impact assessment 2020 introduced by the government.
Thereby, the government must strengthen the tribunal by providing greater autonomy and must also ensure a speedy implementation of the orders of the tribunal.