Environmental laws play the most vital part as safeguards against damages to the environment. They are pivotal for ecological protection. Almost every nation, including the developing ones, has environmental protection laws, but a gap exists between its formulation and implementation. Even after decades, it is still suffering in many parts of the world due to poor execution.
This law article talks about the National Green Tribunal (NGT), its incorporation, composition and more in detail. Have a look.
Institution and Incorporation of NGT
Different countries have globally established a separate green court, green tribunal or environment court to deal with environment-related litigation.
The United Nations Conference on Human Environment addressed the global need for appropriate steps to protect and improve the environment.
The 1st global environment conference had adopted an action plan known as Stockholm Declaration Plan 1972. Indian Parliament amended the Constitution and adopted Article 48A in Directive Principles and passed:
- The Water (Now Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
- The Air (Now Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
- Environmental Protection Act, 1986
In India, in M.C. Mehta vs Union of India (1987), the Supreme Court observed that an environmental court must be set up for speedy disposal of environmental cases.
In Charan Lal Sahu vs Union of India (1990), the Supreme Court categorically observed that under the existing civil laws, the damage is determined by civil laws after long drawn litigation.
This itself destroys the very purpose of avoiding the damage. In 1992, the 2nd environment-related conference was held in Rio De Janeiro. It emphasised the need for judicial and administrative access to citizens, nation and state. The government of India took the initiative and passed the National Environmental Tribunal Bill in 1995 and established National Environmental Tribunal under this Act. A National Environment Appellate Authority Act was passed in 1997 to apply certain industries operations or processes and to regulate them under Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Determining Cases in the Formation of NGT
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India established the appellate authority to address the environment clearances with four path-breaking judgements by the Supreme Court:
- M.C. Mehta vs Union of India (AIR 1987 SC 1086)
- Indian Council For Enviro-Legal Action vs Union of India (AIR 1996 SC 1446)
- A.P. Pollution Control Board (I) vs Prof. M.V. Nayudu ((1999) 2 SCC 718)
- A.P. Pollution Control Board (II) vs Prof. M.V. Nayudu ((Appeal (civil) 373 of 1999))
Constitution and Composition of the National Green Tribunal
As of January 2022, India is the 3rd country in the world after New Zealand and Australia that has established an environmental court. India is the pioneer in establishing a green court among the developing countries.
National Green Tribunal (NGT) was established in India in 2010 under Article 21 of the Constitution. The NGT Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha in July 2009. After accepting the 186th report submitted by the National Law Commission, the Bill was passed in June 2010 to constitute a National Green Tribunal, and the government established a tribunal on 18th October 2010.
National Green Tribunal has a principal bench at New Delhi and 4 other benches at Chennai, Bhopal, Pune and Kolkata. It is a federal body with specified judicial functions, i.e., the effective disposal of cases relating to environmental protection, forest conservation, and other resources.
Section 4 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 deals with the composition of the tribunal. Several provisions of the Act are discussed below that explains NGT’s composition:
- Chairperson: Appointed by the central government from the judges of Supreme Court or Chief Justices of High Court in consultation with the Chief Justice of India.
- Members: Sanctioned strength at present is 40. But as of January 2022, only 10 judicial members and 10 experts are appointed.
- Judicial members: Chosen by the selection committee headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court.
- Expert members: Chosen from applicants who are either serving or retired bureaucrats, not below the rank of additional secretary at the union level or principal secretary at the state level with a minimum experience of 5 years in dealing with environmental matters.
- Bench: Each bench shall have at least 1 judicial member and 1 expert member.
Procedure to File Complaints With NGT
Tribunal has a simple procedure to file an application seeking compensation for environmental damage.
The tribunal can be approached by any person (advocate not required) seeking relief and/or compensation for damages to the environment. The damages are subject to statutes mentioned under Schedule I of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.
Statutes under Schedule I of NGT Act, 2010:
- The 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
- The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
If a person is not satisfied with the government’s decision, they can file an application before the tribunal against the decision under any of the statutes mentioned above. If no claim for compensation is involved, a fee of Rs. 1000 is to be paid. If compensation is being claimed, the fee will be 1% of the total amount of compensation subject to a minimum of Rs. 1000.
Adjudication by Tribunal
The tribunal has jurisdiction over all the civil cases related to the environment.
The tribunal has the authority to provide relief and compensation to the pollution victim and other environmental damages, including accidents involving hazardous substances.
According to section 21 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, the decision of the tribunal is taken by the opinion of the majority. If the opinion is equally divided even after hearing in the presence of the chairperson, the case may be referred to other members of the tribunal for re-hearing.
The decisions of the tribunal (same meaning as “court” under CPC) are binding. The tribunal can give punishment of up to 3 years of jail and a fine of up to Rs 10 crores. An additional fine of Rs 25000 per day may be imposed if any individual is involved in an environmental damage activity. In the case of a company, the fine can be up to Rs 25 crores, and an additional fine may be imposed of Rs 1 lakh per day.
The right to appeal to the Supreme Court lies within 90 days of the tribunal’s award. However, the Supreme Court may entertain the appeal even after 90 days if the aggrieved person can reasonably satisfy the Supreme Court.
National Green Tribunal in the News Recently
In 2020, the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification was published, and instead of focussing on safeguarding the environment, the focus had shifted to ease of doing business.
Ossie Fernandes vs the Ministry of Environment and Forest
For example, the EIA draft 2020 is ultra vires the guidelines laid by NGT on public consultation in Ossie Fernandes vs the Ministry of Environment and Forest (Appeal No. 12/2011). As per the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, there were approximately 17 lakhs comments and suggestions over the draft EIA when public opinion was asked for the same.
Citizens for Green Doon vs Union of India, Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways
An application was filed in February 2018 by Citizens for Green Doon against the Char Dham Yatra project. NGT passed an order to constitute an ‘oversight committee’ and observed that environment clearance was not required for the project since the length of each project was less than 100 km.
This order was appealed in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court on 8th August 2019 in Citizens for Green Doon vs Union of India, Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways (Civil Appeal No 10930 of 2018) modified the order of the NGT and constituted a High Powered Committee (HPC) headed by Prof. Ravi Chopra and directed to prepare and submit its report/recommendations within 4 months from the date of order.
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, in Citizens for Green Doon vs Union of India on 14 December 2021, issued directions and observed that the approval is conditional upon the fulfilment of conditions by the HPC.
Since its inception in October 2010, the National Green Tribunal has been successful in upholding its mandate. It is acting as a fast-track court for speedy and effective disposal of cases related to environmental protection and conservation.
So far, 36356 cases have been instituted, and only 2404 cases are pending before the National Green Tribunal. The tribunal is taking suo-moto cognisance, and many environmentalists and RTI activists are filing cases before the tribunal.
At times, the tribunal has a conflict of opinion with other courts of the country but tries to resolve the problems with an innovative approach.
India ranked 177 out of 180 countries in the Environment Performance Index 2020 report prepared by Yale Center for Environment Law and Policy, Yale University.
Environmental activists hope that the tribunal will continue to address these problems and be equipped with all the resources required for its effective functioning.
The tribunal should play a significant role in the context of proposed reforms regarding the structure of environmental governance. The tribunal should be active in deciding the environmental clearance to projects related to development.
The consistency of the tribunal can determine the improvement of the position of Indian environmental health on a global stage.
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