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NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL: ANALYSIS

The National Green Tribunal has been established under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. It is a specialized body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues.

Salient features

  • The NGT is not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but shall be guided by principles of natural justice.
  • NGT is also not bound by the rules of evidence as enshrined in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  • It will be relatively easier (as opposed to approaching a court) for conservation groups to present facts and issues before the NGT, including pointing out technical flaws in a project, or proposing alternatives that could minimize environmental damage but which have not been considered.
  • While passing Orders/decisions/awards, the NGT will apply the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principles. However, it must be noted that if the NGT holds that a claim is false, it can impose costs including lost benefits due to any interim injunction.

Recent judgments

  • The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal has suspended the environmental clearance of the India-based Neutrino Observatory project for research on high energy and nuclear physics, being set up in Tamil Nadu. The INO Project is a multi-institutional effort aimed at building a world-class underground laboratory with a rock cover of approximately 1200 metre for non-accelerator based high energy and nuclear physics research in India.
  • The illegal and improper activities at the camping sites led to the pollution of Ganga, forest areas and there was violation of the norms and guidelines with impunity thus the National Green Tribunal has prohibited all camping activity on beaches along the Ganga which fall within 100 meters from the middle of the river during lean season flow from Shivpuri to Rishikesh, a hub for eco-tourism and river rafting.
  • Biomedical waste plants in Delhi shall be subjected to inspection by joint inspection team of CPCB and DPCC. A complete and comprehensive report be submitted about their performances, capacity and results of treating such para-medical wastes. The NGT also directed the team to report about the manner in which bio-medical waste was being handled by hospitals and the situation prevailing in medical institutions adversely affecting human health and environment.
  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered a complete ban on burning of any kind of garbage, leaves, plastic waste and rubber in the open in Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) to control air pollution. As per NGT, burning of garbage and other material like plastic is responsible for nearly 30 percent of the air pollution in the capital and its suburbs. The person who is found burning or responsible for burning would be liable to pay compensation in terms of Section 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. It also directed authorities to levy a fine of 5000 rupees on anyone found burning such material in the open.

The critical issues are discussed as follows:

  • The act has limited the jurisdiction of tribunal to "substantial question of environment" i.e. situations where 'damage to public health is broadly measurable' or 'significant damage to environment' or relates to 'Point Source of Pollution'. The question related to environment can't left on discretion of an individual especially on subjective assessment whether environment damage is substantial or not.
  • NGT Jurisdiction is confined to where community at large is affected by specific form of activity such as pollution. It excludes individual or Group of individuals who deserves as much protection as to Community at Large.
  • The qualifications for a technical member are more favorable to bureaucrats (especially retired) and to irrelevant technocrats. The act considers higher degrees in Science, Technology and Administrative experience but no provision for ecologist, sociologist, environmentalist, civil society or NGO, etc.
  • The Act is silent on provision that who is liable to pay compensation or cost of damage to public health or environment. The MOEF state that it shall be notified in rules but this substantial concern shall be included in act only not on will of executive.
  • The Act doesn't provide jurisdiction to Tribunal over all laws related to environment such as Wildlife Protection Act (1972), Indian Forest Act 1927, Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights Act) 2005 and various other state legislation's.
  • NGT though is regular in scheduling hearings, typically with time gaps of two to three weeks between two consecutive hearings. Despite the high percentage of cases being disposed of, there is also an increasing backlog of cases in NGT.
  • NGT's critics have also questioned the "lack of environmental finesse" of its expert members. "Usually, the expert members are experts of one particular field and not of environment as a whole. For instance, an expert member who has been working on forests for many years would not be able to comprehend the issues arising out of industrial pollution. Thus, the judgments are vague and not relevant in some cases.

Many have also questioned some NGT judgments, for instance, the one dealing with the Okhla Bird Sanctuary in Noida. In September 2013, NGT' principal bench gave an order that stopped all construction within a 10-kilometre (km) radius of the sanctuary because the government had not notified the eco-sensitive zone around it at that time. The order stopped constructions only in Uttar Pradesh, but inexplicably didn't do so in parts of Delhi which fall within the 10 km radius. Many have criticized the selective and "judicial" nature of this judgment.

The bottom line is that NGT has done well so far. But many improvements are still required to make accessible, speedy and effective resolution of environmental disputes a practical reality. For this, NGT must be strengthened and not weakened.

 

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