National Green Tribunal (NGT): A Jurisdiction for Speedy Environmental Justice

Environment Protection has been an integral part of our plans and actions, and it is one of the most significant points taken into consideration while planning and carrying out other projects & activities.

When we talk about taking from the environment, there is a lot to list. We are, of course, dependent heavily on nature for our needs. We learn the give-and-take relationship from nature, but we focus less on giving. That is not healthy, neither for our environment nor ourselves. An elementary example of this imbalance is the recent celebration of the festival Diwali. As we bid farewell to festivities, we were met with the colossal garbage collected at the shores of river Ganga or the heaps at the corners of the road in every city. This seven days' worth of garbage is due to firecrackers.

"…and even as we sweep the roads, people continue to burst crackers," said one of the workers at Mumbai's Nariman Point.

Also, Delhi's air quality has significantly deteriorated, which led to the Supreme Court banning the sale of crackers in the national capital. However, observing a pollution-free Diwali is not possible for us right now due to various reasons. Apart from that, corporates and firms continue to manufacture goods and services without caring for the environment, extensive exploitation of resources can be seen. The mining of coal or sand illegally, throwing industrial pollutants in the rivers untreated, deforestation, construction of commercial or residential areas in forest preserved areas, et cetera. are among the problems and causes which steadily leads us to an unsustainable future or no future at all.

Developing India and Natural Environment

India is a developing country, and we are trying to achieve various objectives for the growth and development of the citizens and the nation. We are blessed with abundant natural resources to use for this development. However, there has to be a body to control the use and over-exploitation of these resources. This authority is also required due to the drawbacks of our judicial system. India has one of the most extensive judicial systems globally that deals with every type of case and matter. This system is faced with numerous cases and hence lacks the efficiency to dispose of these cases expeditiously. The environmental resources becoming scarce and non-renewable has raised concerns regarding the future. To handle these issues with care, the National Green Tribunal has played a critical role.

What is the National Green Tribunal (NGT)?

During the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development summit in June 1992, India pledged with the participating nations to provide judicial and administrative remedies to the victims of pollution and other environmental damage.

One of the constitutional rights guaranteed to us under Article 21 is the right to a healthy environment, which makes it necessary to protect the environment by the judiciary. Therefore, the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, was established as an alternative means to deliver justice efficiently. According to this Act, National Green Tribunal has been set up as a fast track quasi-judicial body consisting of environmental experts to ensure their work towards protecting the environment.

NGT is tasked with the responsibility of providing an effective and expeditious remedy for all the cases w.r.t.

  • Environment protection

  • Conservation of forests

  • Conservation of other natural resources

  • Enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment.

NGT helps reduce the burden of litigation/lawsuits in the higher courts as the Tribunal shall provide speedy environmental justice. The Tribunal is guided by the principle of natural justice rather than the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 for dealing with 'civil environmental matters.' The Tribunal must undertake and endeavour to dispose of applications or appeals within six months of the filing.

The Act and relevant laws in its Schedule I are:

  • 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 National Green Tribunal was recommended to be set up at five places of sittings and follows circuit procedure for making itself more accessible to the applicants. Its structure has made sure to cover all the regions of the country. The five regional benches are at the following locations:

  • New Delhi (North),

  • Pune (West),

  • Bhopal (Central),

  • Chennai (South) and

  • Kolkata (East).

Each Bench has a specified geographical jurisdiction in a region. There lies a mechanism for circuit benches as well.

We as a country have moved towards achieving our Carbon Credit initiative, and such a tribunal plays a crucial role in ensuring the control of emissions while maintaining our desired levels. It is the first judicial body required by its parent regulation to apply the "polluter pays" principle and the principle of sustainable development.

After Australia and New Zealand, India is the third country to set up such a special court for the applications received for the environment. The DPCC (Delhi Pollution Control Committee) is working under the Act and the guidance of NGT.

Objectives and Functions of the NGT:

The three primary objectives of the National Green Tribunal are:

  1. The speedy and effective disposal of all the cases related to environmental protection and other natural resources. This Tribunal will also decide pending cases.

  2. Its main aim is to enforce all the rights relating to the environment legally.

  3. It accounts for providing compensation and justice to all the affected people in case of any damage.

Power and Functions:

  • NGT has the authority to decide all the matters involving the environment and its protection and the litigations arising from the same.

  • It is a statutory authority and hence can exercise not only original jurisdiction but also appellate jurisdiction.

  • There are certain principles NGT considers, apart from those laid down in the Act, for deciding on a case, such as sustainable development, polluter pays, precautionary principle, et cetera.

  • NGT can order a concerned party or person to pay compensation and relief for the damage caused to the environment and the victims.

  • It can also order for restitution of property and restitution of the damaged environment.

  • All the proceedings taking place under NGT shall be according to the proceedings within the sections of IPC, 1860 (Indian Penal Code).

  • From the date of filing the complaint, NGT has to dispose of the case within six months. It helps in speedy justice and reduces pendency.

  • An appeal can be filed against the orders of the NGT in the Supreme Court.

Judgments and Cases Undertaken by the NGT:

  • Ms Betty C. Alvares v the State of Goa and Ors. In this case, a foreign national complained about illegal construction in Goa. There were two objections raised. First, the person complaining was a foreigner and that he did not have the right to file a petition before the Tribunal. Second, the matter was barred by limitation law. At this point, the Tribunal disagreed with the objection raised, and the application was maintainable. Now foreigners can also approach the National Green Tribunal.

  • Due to the " precautionary principle, the National Green Tribunal has refused to cease its order prohibiting mining operations within 10km of Bassi Wildlife Sanctuary in Chittorgarh, Rajasthan, due to the "precautionary principle." This principle states that if there is a risk of severe damage to humans or the environment, scientific evidence of the same might not be required when stakes are high.

  • NGT has constituted an independent monitoring committee to restore and rejuvenate the rivers of Varuna and Assi, tributaries to river Ganga, in Varanasi.

  • NGT ordered for an ₹2 crore interim compensation for the environmental damage and spreading much beyond the allotted area on Dolomite Mining in Uttarakhand.

  • It has ordered industrial units to get environment clearance, without which they cannot operate, and firmly stated that states have no power over exempting anyone of the requirement of Environment Clearance.

The NGT, since its inception, has been guiding and providing justice to the victims of environmental damage. It has helped towards a sustainable future through its numerous efforts and judgements. Following the proceedings and principles laid down by the Tribunal has to be one of our fundamental duties as its agenda is environmental protection which has no alternatives.

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