Articles

National Green Tribunal: Constitution, Functions and Power

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This Article is written by Saumya Tripathi, a student of Shri Ramswaroop Memorial University

Introduction

The National Green Tribunal (‘NGT’) was established on 18th October, 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010. The purpose behind the establishment of NGT is effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to environmental dispute involving multi-disciplinary issues. After the establishment of NGT, India became the third country to have a specialised body that deals with environmental related issues followed by Australia being the first and New Zealand being the second. The Principal Bench of NGT is situated in New Delhi (North zone) with the circuit benches at Chennai (South zone), Bhopal (Central zone), Pune (West zone) and Kolkata (East zone).

The National Green Tribunal is India’s first dedicated environmental court with a wide jurisdiction power. Its jurisdiction is not only limited to deal with the violation of environmental laws. Instead, it allows the tribunal to focus on providing relief compensation and restoration of the ecology. Thus, the tribunal plays a significant role in environment protection.

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Some of the major objectives of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) are as follows:

  • To ensure conservation of the environment, forests, and other natural resources.
  • To provide effective and speedy disposal of cases.
  • To provide compensations and relief for to whom the damage is caused due to environmental degradation.
  • To ensure that environmental related laws are obeyed and act as a watchdog in case of any violations.
  • To prevent the harm caused to the environment due to government or private actions.
  • To work towards spreading awareness about various environment related laws and the issues prevalent in the society. 

Background

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The Apex Court of India in Oleum gas leak case first time realized the need for a national tribunal that addresses matters related to environmental protection. Later, the Law Commission of India in 2003 recommended in its 186th report that the government needs to constitute special environmental courts, to deal with multi-disciplinary issues relating to protection of environment, which would have members with judicial or legal experience assisted by the members with technical knowledge.

The National Green Tribunal was formed in the year 2010 under Section 3 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. It is a statutory body. Under the Indian Constitution, Article 21 and Article 323(B) forms the base for the establishment of Though, this tribunal. As under Article 21 the Right to life and personal liberty include right to clean and healthy environment while the other article 323(B) provides for the establishment of tribunals. Though, before this act there were existed two acts namely National Environmental Tribunal Act, 1995 and National Environmental Appellate Authority, 1997, for the same purpose of establishing specialised environmental courts. But the authorities failed to achieve its objective and became defunct. Failure of these acts lead to the realization of having more empowered and strengthened authority to dispose environmental related disputes. Therefore, the National Green Tribunal was established under NGT act, 2010. It has replaced the National Appellate Authority.

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Globally, the need for the establishment of a central specialised agency for the timely disposal of environmental disputes was first realised in the Stockholm Declaration of 1992. The declaration was adopted at the Rio de Janeiro summit which was held in 1992, by the United Nations (also knowns as United Nations Conference on Conservation of Environment and Development). This summit highlighted the need of a national forum that addresses issue related to environmental protection adequately. The Rio de Janerio summit played a major role in establishment of a national forum in India that specifically deals with environmental related disputes and provides reddressal for the same. India’s commitment towards the Rio summit paved a way for the establishment of such forum.

The necessity for such specialised body was felt most by the Supreme Court of India after the pronouncement of four landmark judgements (namely the M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 1986, Indian Council for Environmental-Legal Action v. Union of India, 1996, A.P. Pollution Control Board v. M.V. Naidu, 1992 and A.P. Pollution Control Board v. M.V. Naidu, 2001). The Apex Court felt that the interpretation of environmental laws requires a different agency consisting of experts in the relevant field.

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Constitution and Structure

Section 3 of National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 provides for the establishment of National Green Tribunal. It states that the Central Government shall establish a Tribunal known as National Green Tribunal to exercise the jurisdiction, power and authority conferred on such tribunal by or under this act through notification in the Gazette of India.

Section 4 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 provides for the composition of the tribunal. The tribunal will consist of following members: –

  • A full-time Chairperson.
  • Judicial Members not less than 10 and maximum up to 20.
  • Expert Members not less than 10 and maximum up to 20.

Section 5 provides for the qualifications of such members.

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  • Chairperson shall be a person who is or has been a Supreme Court Judge or a High Courts Chief Justice.
  • Judicial Member shall be a person who is or has been a High Court’s Judge.
  • Expert Member shall be member with experience and qualification in the technological and scientific field or practical experience in matters related to the environment.

Section 6 provides for the appointment of Chairperson, Judicial Members and Expert Members.

  • The Chairperson, Judicial Members and Expert Members of the tribunal shall be appointed by the Central Government.
  • Central Government after consulting Chief Justice of India appoints the Chairperson of the tribunal.
  • For the appointment of Expert and Judicial Members of the tribunal a Selection Committee shall be formed by the Central Government

Section 7 provides for the tenure of office for all members including chairperson.

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  • They shall hold office for the term of 5 years.
  • The Chairperson and Judicial member, if he is a Supreme Court Judge, shall not hold office after 70 years of age. In case, if he is a Chief Justice of High Court or High Court Judge then he shall not hold office after 67 years of age.
  • They Expert Member can hold office only till 65 years of age.
  • They are ineligible for reappointment.

Powers of the National Green Tribunal

The National Green Tribunal has the power to hear all civil cases relating to environment that are linked to the implementation of all the laws listed in Schedule I of the NGT Act, 2010. Any violation or any order given by the government with respect to these laws if not proper can be challenged in the NGT and will be decided there. The laws are mentioned below:

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974

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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;

The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

The National Green Tribunal has been barred from hearing any cases relating to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and various laws enacted by States relating to forests, tree preservation and various other laws.

The National Green Tribunal has jurisdiction to determine all the cases involving substantial questions regarding the environment and its protection and also legal rights associated with it.

The tribunal, being a statutory authority, not only exercises original jurisdiction on filing an application but also has appellate jurisdiction through which it hears appeals as a Court.

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The tribunal is not bound by the procedure mentioned under the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 and it applies the principles of natural justice while deciding any matter.

NGT will consider the following principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principles while settling any dispute.

The National Green Tribunal, by an order can provide the following (section 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act,2010)

Compensation and relief to all the victims of pollution and environmental damage including accidents which happened while handling hazardous substance.

Restitution of a damaged property.

Restitution of the environment for area or areas which the tribunal may think fit.

An appeal can be filed against any order given by the tribunal before the Supreme Court of India within ninety days from the date of communication of the order regarding the case.

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Functions of the National Green Tribunal

It is a body that has proficiency in handling multi-disciplinary issues concerning to environment and its protection.

The foremost objective of the Tribunal is to provide speedy trials of the environment-related matters and help in lessen the burden of pending cases in the higher courts.

It is mandatory for the tribunal to dispose the environment-related matter within 6 months of the filing of the complaint.

The National Green Tribunal is not bound by the procedure of Code of Civil Procedure. They have the power to regulate their own procedure (section 19 of NGT Act ,2010) and adopts the principle of natural justice while administering justice.

The National Green Tribunal is not bound by the rules mentioned in the Indian Evidence Act,1872.

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It is important for the tribunal to consider principles such as sustainable development at the time of awarding compensation or giving orders.

It is required for the tribunal to always bear in mind the fact that whoever pollutes the environment is liable to pay i.e., Polluter Pay Principle.

All the proceedings before the National Green Tribunal shall be in accordance with the proceedings mention within the sections of the IPC.

Important Judgements of the NGT:

Some of the important judgements of the NGT are discussed below: –

  • Almitra H. Patel & Ors. Vs. Union of India and Ors.

A PIL was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution. The PIL highlighted lack of proper system in India for solid waste management. The tribunal saw it as major problem and issued over 25 directions & guidelines after hearing the case. All the states were asked to strictly follow Solid Management Rules, 2016 the tribunal and prohibited open burning of waste on land.

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  • Samir Mehta Vs. Union of India and Ors.

In this case the tribunal stressed upon the need for protection of marine ecosystem and aquatic world. The complaint emphasised the serious damage caused by the coal, fuel oil and diesel carrying ship. The tribunal invoked “polluter pay principle” and held that negligence was caused on the part of respondents and are liable for the damages caused.

  • Ms. Betty C. Alvares Vs. The State of Goa and Ors.

In this case the tribunal held the decision in favour of foreign nationality who made complaint regarding illegal construction in Goa. The tribunal disagreed on the objection raised that a foreigner has no right to file a petition before tribunal and held that a foreign national can also approach the court.

  • Save Mon Region Federation and Ors. Vs. Union of India and Ors.

A federation along with a social activist filed a case against permitting a hydro project which was violating the Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 as it was very close to a wintering site of Black-necked Crane (a type of bird). The tribunal held that the such project must be terminated and gave order to cancel its clearance.

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  • The Art of Living’s World Culture Festival Verdict

In this case, a petition was filed before the NGT, Principal Bench, By Sri Manoj Mishra against Art of Living Foundation. The bench dealt with two important questions. Firstly, Whether the foundation is responsible for causing damage to Yamuna Floodplains. Secondly, whether they are liable to pay compensation or fine for such damage.  The tribunal held the foundation responsible for the damage caused by the World Culture Festival to the Yamuna floodplains in 2016. The tribunal imposed penalty of 5 crores on the foundation for the restoration of damaged caused.

Suggestion

The two most important acts, Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Indian Forest Act,1927 is out of the jurisdiction ambit of NGT. Subject matter of both of these acts hold great importance in balancing the environment. The decrease in forest areas is well known fact. As well wildlife crime is evident in India such as their illegal trade or animal poaching. These activities threaten the balance of ecology. In such scenario, keeping these acts beyond the jurisdiction of NGT is not logical. Including these acts within jurisdiction area of NGT widens its scope of working. And NGT as a watchdog will provide more stability to these acts in its implementation and working.

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Conclusion

The concept of National Green Tribunal is very much needed. The rapid increase in environmental degradation undoubtedly demand for such body which specifically addresses environmental issues and takes the initiative to protect the environment. NGT monitors and ensures that the law related to environment strictly obeyed and also speedy and effective trials of environmental related matter is delivered. The Expert Members in the tribunal empowers this body as their knowledge will help to understand the details of environment issues and its technicalities while deciding a case. It will help the tribunal to come up with innovative and better solutions for environmental problems striking the balance between law and environment. Therefore, NGT plays a very significant role in protecting and balancing the environment.

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