It is an ethical belief that humans hold an intrinsic value and all humans hold the capacity to serve others in their instrumental value. ‘Environment’ is a French word for ‘environner’, it means ‘to surround or to encircle’. It includes all the natural resources that form the natural habitat of human and animal life. Environment as provided in Section 2 of the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, is defined as the air, water, land and the interrelation between these resources and human beings, other creatures and property. In 1992, at the Rio Conference of the United Nations, India pledged to provide administrative and judicial remedies to the victims of pollutants. This gave rise to the establishment of a special tribunal, called the National Green Tribunal or NGT. This establishment has drawn inspiration from Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which provides for freedom of life and liberty. The judiciary has extended its wide interpretation to assure people a healthy environment and access to it. In Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, 1991, the Supreme Court held that Article 21 includes the right to free water and air free from pollution to facilitate the enjoyment of life.
NGT or the National Green Tribunal was established under the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010. It is headquartered in Delhi, having other sittings in Pune, Bhopal, Chennai and Kolkata as well. India with such advancement has become the first developing country in the world to set up this specialized environmental tribunal after Australia and New Zealand. Its main purpose is to expedite the disposal of environmental related issues by reducing the burden of litigation in other courts of India. It mandates the settlement of issues within the first six months of filing a petition, having a wide jurisdiction. The chairperson is appointed along with other judicial members and experts as per Section 2 (b) of the Act.
POWERS AS PER NGT ACT, 2010
The court has jurisdiction over all civil cases of the substantial question relating to the environment as provided in Section 14. As it is a statutory body, apart from original jurisdiction, it also has an appellate power. It is guided by the principles of ‘natural justice’ and is not bound by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 as provided in its Section 19. It applies principles of sustainable development; precautionary principle and the principle of polluter pays (Section 20). It has the power to provide relief and compensation to the victims of environmental pollution and provide for the restitution of damage (Section 15). It has the power to provide for a procedure for the penalty, including non-compliance, imprisonment for a maximum of three years, and a fine extendable up to ten crore rupees or both fine and imprisonment (Section 26).
The court deals with statutes like (Section 16):
- 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
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977
- The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
- NGT has been a critical player in upholding environmental regulations. It has passed strict orders from various issues ranging from pollution to waste management and deforestation as well.
- It offers a smooth road for the evolution of environmental jurisprudence by establishing such an alternative dispute resolution system.
- It also helps reduce the burden of litigations in other courts of India by dealing exclusively with environmental matters.
- It forms a less formal, faster and cheaper source of resolving disputes related to the environment.
- The members and chairperson are not eligible for further appointment making them likely to deliver independent judgements without much pressure of bureaucracy and bias.
- The Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 is out of NGT’s jurisdiction. Thus, it can be difficult as certain issues are linked to these acts which are directly linked to environmental protection.
- High courts being a constitutional body are flooded with decisions of the NGT under the writ jurisdiction of Article 226. Its decisions can be challenged before the Supreme Court as well, thus there is a lack of clarity.
- Due to the repercussions on the economic growth and environment, these decisions have been challenged time and again.
- In the 2013 Uttarakhand floods case, Alaknanda Hydro Power Co. Ltd was held to compensate as per the polluter pays principle. In 2015 it was held that all diesel vehicles over 10 years to be not permitted in Delhi- NCR due to its increased pollution.
- In 2017, the NGT also imposed an interim ban on the use and sale of plastic bags that are non-biodegradable and are less than 50 microns thick. They were responsible for animal deaths, damage to the environment and clogging of sewages in Delhi. The violators would be liable to pay a fine of Rs. 5000.
- Harinder Dhingra v. International Recreation & Amusement Ltd. & Ors, 2017, dealt with the issue of illegal drawl of groundwater. An amusement park in Gurgaon, Haryana was responsible for diverting water from the river for its commercial use. The NGT approved the committee’s recommendations and suggested steps to disconnect the canal supply and mandate the treatment of water by increasing the recharge of water.
- In C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors, 2019, NGT looked into the reports of the supervisory committee to ensure cleaning of river Ganga’s Phase I. Upon incomplete action plans, the NGT warned states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand and the National Mission for Clean Ganga of compensation for the failure to formulate and implement plans for Phase II and Phase III.
ANALYSIS & CONCLUSION
Legal rights can be established through both judicial and legislative means. We seek to achieve development through our improved efforts as the environment is where we live on the planet and for its inhabitants. ‘Our Common future’ is the aim to be achieved through Sustainable Development Goals to meet the needs of the present without negotiating with the ability of the future generations to meet their rudiments. Bringing about change by legislative means, as been done in Australia and New Zealand can be slow in India, but they are efficient in comparison.
Conclusively, such a body plays a crucial role in curbing the activities which harm the environment. It’s an instrument that ensures the Environment Impact Assessment process strictly as well. The absence of a formula-based mechanism that determines compensation is also criticized. Increased power and getting rid of loopholes are the approaches to monitor and revise the importance of the environment and its protection to ensure the objectives of its conservation is fulfilled. The autonomy and scope of NGT’s authority should be widened for the effective protection of the environment and also to maintain a balance between the economic and developmental growth of India. As pressure on tribunals keep increasing, recognizing the opportunities and constraints given by this new legal framework will enable decision-makers to make more informed decisions when contemplating ways to address their context-specific socio-environmental and economic concerns.
Author(s) Name: Sarakshie Sonawane (Symbiosis Law School, Pune)