After independence, our nation was struggling to overcome many issues such as illiteracy, poverty, hunger etc. Due to all this, environmental issues were getting neglected by the government but with time, the people and authorities started to recognize environmental issues. With the advent increase in the rate of global warming, and rise in the sea level we are destroying our nation which is inherited us by our forefathers. If the situation continues to go like this, our future generation will not see what we are having today.
India is one of the countries which actively take part in environmental issues and one of the events is the UN- 2030 agenda is the global framework to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development goals by 2030. There is a total of 17 sustainable development goals and the agenda for the environment can only be resolved by establishing specific courts and tribunals for environmental issues. It has been ascertained that if environmental cases are to be considered, they must be based on scientific analysis, which is only possible with the assistance of experts and judicial officers. If this is followed, the judicial system will become more efficient in resolving environmental issues. For tacking cases related to this environment, the national green tribunal was established under the national green tribunal act, 2010. India is the third country to establish such a kind of special body to deal with environment-related ted issues followed by Australia and New Zealand.
THE IDEA FOR CREATING ENVIRONMENTAL COURTS IN INDIA
Due to the huge escalation in the cases related to the environment, there was a form of an increase in the rate of delivering justice in the environmental cases. The national green tribunal was established on 18th October 2010 under the nation green tribunal act, 2010. This statutory tribunal was set up with the central objective of resolving disputes related to the environment. In the Bhopal gas tragedy case[i] in which, Mc Mehta filed a writ petition under Articles 21 and 32 of the Indian Constitution seeking the closure of all Shriram Food and Fertilizers factories engaged in hazardous substances and located in the congested area of Kirti Nagar. During the petition before the court, there was a gas leak from one of the factories, which resulted in the death of an advocate, as well as other people being affected by the gas leak. This incident makes me think of the Bhopal gas leak disaster. Following that, factories were immediately closed. The bench of five judges, led by Justice PN Bhagwati, issued the rule of absolute liability, which means that if a factory deals with hazardous substances and the hazardous substances escape, causing the death of many people. The factory would then be liable even if reasonable care and protection were taken. As with absolute liability, there is no defence. The law must be amended as civilization advances. As a result, the court held the industry “totally responsible” and ordered that compensation be paid regardless of whether the injury was proven Further, in the case of the union of India V. Vimal Bhai, the supreme court raised the issue of difficulty in solving the technical environment-related issues and need for special environment court. Both these cases further aggravated the need for a separate environment court.
PRINCIPLES OF JUSTICE ADOPTED BY THE NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL
The national green tribunal is not bound to follow any procedure provided by the Code of Civil Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
They follow the principle of natural justice, sustainable development, and the polluter pays principle,
Principle of natural justice
Natural justice revolves around the principle of ‘unbiased’ or ‘fairness’ Making an adequate and reasonable decision on a specific issue is what natural justice entails. It doesn’t always matter what the reasonable decision is, but in the end, what matters is the procedure and the people involved in making those reasonable decisions.
There are mainly three rules followed by the natural justice
- First is the ‘HEARING RULE’, which states that the person or a party who is going to be affected by the decision then, he’/she will be allowed to express their point of view to defend themselves.
- Second is the ‘BIAS RULE’ which states that the decision should be given by the judges fairly.
- Last is the ‘REASONED DECISION’ which states that the judgement given by the court will be given on the reasoned ground
The word sustainable development was first used in the Stockholm declaration, in 1972. Sustainable development means fulfilling the needs of the present generation without compromising the need of the future generation.
Polluter pays principle
The polluter pay principle is a common practice which means that the polluter who produces the pollution has to bear the cost for the harm caused to human health or the environment.
NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL ACT, 2010:[ii]REASON FOR THE ENACTMENT OF ACT
- One reason was the rate at which the resources are getting exhausted, factories are set up and increasing urbanization which further leads to the increase in the pendency of cases related to environmental issues. Due to this environment courts were set up including the national green tribunal.
- Article 21 which is the heart of the Indian constitution also includes the right to live in a healthy environment, which is also our fundamental right. Along with this, Article 48(A) which is the directive principle of state policies states, “the state should endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”
- As a member of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment, India was obligated to provide very effective judicial and administrative proceedings, as well as to redress the liabilities under national laws for victims of environmental pollution and damage.
- To provide relief and compensation for the damage caused to life, property, and the environment.
POWERS OF THE TRIBUNAL
The power of tribunal is conferred under the section 19 [iii]of the said act
- The tribunal has the power to hear and analyse the case and provide relief or compensation to the aggrieved person.
- Has the power to issue the commission for witnessing the documents.
- Has the power to dismiss the case if the case is found to be defaulted or in the case of ex-parte.
- It can also pass the interim order after listening to both sides of the parties.
- Under section 20 of the said Act, the tribunal has the power to order or grant any award to take step towards substantial development.
- Section 21[iv] of the act states that decisions made by the majority of the tribunal’s members are binding on the aggrieved parties.
If the matter falls under any of these acts
Then, the national green tribunal doesn’t have any power in these matters. People can approach either to civil court or can file a writ petition under a high court or supreme court.
COMPOSITION OF NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL
Under Section 4 of the act,[vii] it is mentioned that what should the tribunal consist of
- An eligible full-time chairperson as defined under the national green tribunal act, 2009.
- 10 -12 judicial officers.
- The chairperson has the power to call any specialised person in the tribunal for assistance.
- The central government can notify the territorial jurisdiction that falls under a specific place of sitting.
- The central government along with the chairperson has the power to make rules and regulations for the tribunal.
The first chairperson of the national green tribunal was Justice Lokeshwar Singh.
BENEFITS OF NGT
- DEDICATED COURT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL MATTERS
The establishment of the national green tribunal helps to lighten the burden of the supreme court by handling cases related to the environment and providing them relief and compensation to the aggrieved person.
- ALLOWS SPECIALIZATION
NGT is composed of judicial officers and highly qualified professional and environmental experts who handle the cases judiciously and with expertise.
- TIME-BOUNDED DISPOSAL OF CASES
The tribunal has to dispose of the application within 6 months of filing the same.
- WIDER REACH
The quality of time spent on these issues could also be improved because, unlike the Supreme Court, the tribunal could have benches in various states, allowing all citizens equal access.
- LIMIT TO JURISDICTION
Wildlife protection act, 1972, Indian forests act, 1972, and other trees prevention acts don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the national green tribunal act.
- OBSTACLE TO DEVELOPMENT
NGT decisions have also been criticised and challenged because of their implications for economic growth and development.
- LOOMING VACANCIES
The lack of human and financial resources in NGT undermines the rule of NGT for disposing of the case within 6 months.
- LIMITED REGIONAL BENCHES
NGT is only found in major cities across India like Delhi, and Pune However, environmental exploitation occurs in tribal areas of dense forest.
- In the case of Braj Foundation V. state of Uttar Pradesh, the Braj Foundation filed the case and asked the government to draft a memorandum of understanding for the practice of afforestation at the Vrindavan. The government contended that the advertisement was just an invitation to treat not a contract. But the national green tribunal held that the government must promote afforestation,
- In the case of Jeet Singh Kanwar V. the union of India, In this case, the petitioners are challenging the environmental clearance granted for the construction of a coal-fired power plant. Finally, it was determined that if the environmental clearance is not causing excessive environmental degradation, the project can be continued. However, the tribunal issued an award regarding the illegality of the environmental clearance due to the consequences.
- In the case of A.P. Pollution Control Board V. Prof. M.V. Nayudu (1999) case, With an appeal to the Supreme Court from the Environmental Court, the Supreme Court emphasised the need for a court that was “a combination of a Judge and Technical Experts” in the landmark case.
- In the case of Save Mon Federation V Union of India, the NGT stopped the hydro project worth rupees 6,400 cr to save the habitat of a bird. The NGT ruled that a December 2016 amendment to the EIA 2006 notification was a “ploy” (by the government) to get around the 2006 rules. Many projects were approved illegally, such as the Aranmula Airport in Kerala, the Lower Demwe Hydro Power Project and Nyamnjangu in Arunachal Pradesh, mining projects in Goa, and coal mining projects in Chhattisgarh were either cancelled or reassessed.
In conclusion, it is important to see the decision taken by the NGT as a path towards sustainable development, not as an obstacle to development. There should be a balance maintained between development and a healthy environment. Development depleting natural resources in a huge number will be in vain. It will not have any valuable meaning. If this keeps on going then, our future generation will not be lucky enough to see the resources we have today. We should follow the concept of sustainable development, i.e to utilize the resources in such a manner that they are saved for our future generations.
[i] 1987 SCR (1) 819.
[ii] National Green Tribunal Act, 2010
[iii] National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, Sec 19.
[iv] National green tribunal act, 2010, sec 21.
[v] Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972.
[vi]Indian forest act, 1927.
[vii] National green tribunal act,2010, sec 4.
This article is written by Prerna Pahwa, a student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.