The Indian Constitution provides every citizen Right to have a healthy environment which was mentioned in Article 21. National Green Tribunal was established by the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, it is a quasi-judicial body that allows explicitly civil matters to deal with multidisciplinary approaches, and helps to solidify environmental justice. Before NGT, there were already specialized Environmental courts in countries like Sweden, New Zealand, the USA, etc. The NGT is a ‘fast-track’ court with broad powers, composed of judges and environmental science experts. It commits the application of principles that Impose international environmental law, specifically the principles of sustainable development and the ‘polluter pays principle.
Recently, the NGT completed its decade and In this blog, we will discuss its journey and the work they have done to maintain environmental democracy.
WHY & HOW WAS NGT ESTABLISHED?
The Rio Conference 1992 stated there should be a judicial body to regulate and help citizens of the country and also stressed the need for a legal statute for compensation of damages that occurred due to environmental situations. The Supreme Court of India in the case of M.C.MEHTA v UOI (1986)Discussed that the judiciary is already loaded with pending cases and environment-related cases need a scientific approach to decide cases, which is not possible in the context of judicial administration so there should be a special court to decide these matters. These observations were observed in 1999 by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of A.P. Pollution Control Board v Prof. M.V. Nayudu (Retd.) which enhanced its emphasis on the need for a court that was “a combination of a Judge and Technical Experts” with an appeal to the Supreme Court from the Environmental Court. Finally, the National Green Tribunal Act was passed in 2010 by parliament which replaced the earlier National Environmental Appellate Tribunal. The main Office of NGT is located in Delhi and the other four branches are situated in Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, and Bhopal, The object behind that was to have a presence in every part of India.
The retired Judge of the Supreme Court is named as chairperson, and other members are retired judges from High Courts, at least one Expert member is present in each bench of the Tribunal and this expert should have the qualification of a minimum of 15 years of experience in the field of Environmental.
This Tribunal has jurisdiction over all civil-related matters where substantial questions related to the Environment are involved and such questions arise out of the Enactment of Schedule I to the act.
The Scheduled I includes the following –
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1947.
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution ) Cess Act,1947
- The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
- The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
- The Environment (Protection) Act, 1991.
- The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991.
- The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
THE IMPACT OF THE NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL
From the beginning, this tribunal has created awareness in the public, and it has protected water bodies, forests, and agricultural land and stopped polluting activities like illegal construction, mining, and tree cutting. It has imposed a duty on officials to work in good faith and also punished authorities who did not follow the orders. It has preserved the rights of Tribal communities and assured the enforcement of the ‘Polluter pays’ principle in later spirit.
In 2016, NGT’s Bench which is situated in Kochi banned all 10 years old diesel vehicles from operating in several cities in Kerala and the same decision was taken for Delhi, Which created controversy and backlash against NGT. Still, without any hesitation, this tribunal intended to increase the Ban to fifteen main cities of India where air quality is the worst.
The NGT passed the order in December 2020 that during Diwali, Christmas and New Year only Environment-Friendly Firecrackers would be permitted. The tribunal has reasoned that the “Right to businesses is not absolute. There is no right to violate air quality and noise level norms.”
The NGT in November 2022 Directed three corporations to pay almost Rs. 18.7 crores compensation which was involved in illegal Sand Mining activities near the Yamuna Nagar district of Haryana. This compensation money will be given to the Haryana state pollution control board for the restoration of post-mining remedies, the Restoration of the natural flow of the river, and the development of degraded areas. It also stated the order that they should install CCTV cameras, and GPS systems and give a weighbridge at the entrance of the mining lease area.
REFORMS ARE NEEDED IN NGT
- INCREASE THE JURISDICTION
Many environmental laws are kept away from the jurisdictions of NGT, acts like the Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972 and Scheduled tribes & other Traditional forest dwellers (recognition of forest right) Act, 2006 have not come under the jurisdiction of the Tribunal.
- NEED ENVIRONMENT EXPERT AS WHOLE
The expert members of the tribunal lack expertise in environmental subjects as a whole. For example, a specialist expert who has been working in the field of industrial pollution for a long time will not be able to interpret the challenges occurring out of forest-related issues.
NGT can give suggestions for punishment depending on the case, so it needs a tool by which the decision of the NGT will be obeyed and maintained in accountability and this tribunal should become the final authority to decide the environment-related case
- DO NOT BECOME A BARRIER TO DEVELOPMENT
There are companies and government agencies which have criticized this tribunal for becoming a barrier to economic growth, to curb this NGT needs to work collaboratively with central and state governments
- REGIONAL BENCHES SHOULD INCREASE.
NGT has benches in major cities in India but right now cases related to the environment have increased especially environmental exploitation of tribal land, sand mining, and forest tree cutting. Therefore NGT needs expansion in tribal and forest areas to deliver justice extensively. Also, NGT shall work in full bench strength and all vacancies must be fulfilled as soon as possible.
The National Green Tribunal is a quasi-judicial body that is created for solving environmental cases rapidly, fast decision-making helps the applicant as well as curb unnecessary damage. After COVID, NGT is hearing cases with the support of the internet and video conferencing. This Tribunal had given numerous judgments like the Firecracker ban, sand mining, noise pollution, Tribal matters, etc. It also works on environmental justice by paying compensation to the victim and punishing the bureaucrats who are working unethically. But for achieving its targets NGT needs a well-established set-up with manpower and resources. Also, there are some reports that state that NGT is working under political pressure, the government and officers are not following orders passed by the tribunal because NGT is becoming a barrier to development, to overcome this problem NGT should work in collaboration with central and state governments for achieving the goal Environmental Democracy.
Author(s) Name: Yogesh Somwanshi (Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune)