The article 'The Deficiencies in the National Green Tribunal that call for Immediate Redressal' highlights the loopholes in the role of the National Green Tribunal in our country along with a suggestive approach that must be imbibed from other countries.

The article 'The Deficiencies in the National Green Tribunal that call for Immediate Redressal' by Vrinda Gaur highlights the loopholes in the role of the National Green Tribunal in our country along with a suggestive approach that must be imbibed from other countries.

Introduction

The idea to set up an environmental court was first tabled by Justice P.N Bhagwati while addressing the case of MC Mehta v. Union of India, [1991 SCR (1) 866]. In the backdrop of this case, it came to light that there was a surge in the number of cases related to environmental pollution, ecological conflict and strife over natural resources. The need for assessment and evolution of scientific and technical data regarding environmental matters was also acknowledged directing the establishment of such an environmental authority that would assist in tackling the above-mentioned affairs. Hence in 2010, the foundation of the National Green Tribunal was laid down.[1]

Over time, the jurisdiction of this quasi-judicial body has dilated, pronouncing judgments on diverse environmental issues. The most alluring facet of this body is that its procedural functioning is crystallised on the tenets of the ‘Principles of Sustainable Development’. ‘Precautionary Principle and ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ while issuing any order, decision or award. Thus being unfettered from the intricacies of the procedural laws is one of its many merits.

However, the tribunal struggles to introduce manifold far-reaching reforms that require acknowledgement and enforcement for the dextrous operation of the tribunal.

An Overview of the Active role played by the NGT and a need for further reforms.

Through this span of 12 years of establishment, we have witnessed the tribunal playing an active role and striving to fulfil its prescribed agenda.

Through various landmark judgements such as Almitra H. Patel v. Union of India[2], where the tribunal introduced a complete ban on the open burning of waste on land, the Save Mon Federation v. Union of India[3], where the NGT suspended a 6,400 crore project hydro project to save the habitat of birds and the 2015 order, banning all diesel vehicles over 10 years old in the Delhi-NCR area, the NGT has zestfully strived in the right direction to meet its required expectations and goals.

Other achievements of the tribunal include the interim ban imposed on plastic bags of less than 50 microns of thickness in Delhi as it was leading to hassles of animal deaths, clogging sewers and harming the environment and the 2017 violation imposed on the art of the living festival on Yamuna Food Plains with a penalty amount of 5 crore

Even though this green court has to a great extent, been able to dispose of the majority of the issues addressed to it by the book with utmost diligence and ingenuity, there persist many impediments, some attributable to the tribunal itself while others traceable to external factors.

To assure a more convalesced functioning of the court, certain reforms await. Eliminating the below-discussed deficiencies will serve the purpose.

The Various Deficiencies of the Tribunal

If, the order of the court is disobeyed, then what's the benefit of powerful order? On multiple occasions, we have witnessed the polluters turning a deaf ear to the orders of the tribunal, thus raising a question on the brevity of authority of this green court. Most of the landmark orders of the NGT related to Ganga water pollution, Delhi air pollution, illegal mining, and solid waste management remain unenforced. Most of the orders are either appealed against in the Supreme Court, which leads to a freeze on the enforcement or is stayed by the highest court.

In furtherance of this, the very purpose for which the foundation of NGT was laid down, in addition to dealing with environmental conflicts and issues with the utmost scientific and environmental precision, was to alleviate the caseload burden of the higher judiciary. However, the creation of the tribunal has just added to the existing layer of judicial mechanism with numerous cases reaching the Supreme Court in appeal, thus failing in its objective in entirety.

The next concern is over the lack of jurisdiction of the tribunal over major environment regulating acts, thus narrowing down its scope of operation. Major environmental acts like the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 have been kept out of NGT’s jurisdiction. This limits the prerogative of the tribunal to decide on issues regarding the rights of forest dwellers and other matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto to ensure the ecological and environmental security of the country.

Next in line is the issue of the minimal number of regional benches of the Tribunal. The tribunal has a presence in 5 zones- North, Central, East, South and West. The Principal Bench is situated in the North Zone, headquartered in Delhi. The Central zone bench is situated in Bhopal, the East zone in Kolkata, the South zone in Chennai and the West zone in Pune. Thus plethora of pressing environmental issues fail to reach its jurisdiction due to this physical barrier. Further, as most of the benches are located in metropolitan towns and cities, the voices of the isolated tribes and communities living in the secluded corners often remain muffled. These secluded regions are most often the target of big enterprises to exploit and acquire.

Hence it fails to protect the ecological habitat of the tribes and other isolated communities.

Next, is the concern over the scant centre-state congruency. This factor plays an important role in the proper enforcement of the order of the tribunal. The lack of support from the central and state government and the lack of coordination between the central and state pollution control boards has turned this green tribunal into a toothless tiger deterring its authority.

Further, there persist various on-surface discrepancies that require immediate consideration and redressal. These include limited capacity and staff, a long list of pending cases and a lack of qualification of its expert members. Recently, a question has been raised about the manner in which the cases are being disposed of by the tribunal in single hearings without lawful scrutiny and deliberation. The functioning of the tribunal is further being intruded on by the administrative officials thus withholding transparency in its functioning. All these factors have further called into question the integrity of this green court.

All these pitfalls require prompt acknowledgement and rectification on the part of the accountable authority.

The Way Forward

Although these above-discussed pitfalls and discrepancies have already caused vast scepticism and called into question the credibility of the tribunal, we are still not far behind time to initiate amendments and reforms. A good start would be to deal with the issue of staff paucity and appoint members who meet the qualification upheld by the statute. This would further aid the dilemma of case backlog and pendency. Establishing benches in remote areas would lead to the expansion of the jurisdiction of the tribunal and serve the interest of the tribals and rural communities.

India has myriads to learn from countries like New Zealand and Australia, which have specialised environmental courts, quite regularly restructure administrative and financial support for the court to increase efficiency and reduce costs, and in an ideal world, create benefits of true cost-efficiency.

The future of the tribunal is in deep peril if it continues to function in such an inept manner. However, we’re still not far behind in time to rectify the above-discussed hitches.

References

[1] National Green Tribunal (NGT), Available Here

[2] (2000) (3) SCC 575

[3] Arising out of Appeal No. 39 of 2012

Important Links

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Vrinda Gaur

Vrinda Gaur

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