- The National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995 and National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997 were found to be inadequate giving rise to demand for an institution to deal with environmental cases more efficiently and effectively.
- The Law Commission in its 186th Report suggested multi-faceted Courts with judicial and technical inputs referring to the practice of environmental Courts in Australia and New Zealand.
- As a result NGT was formed as a special fast-track, quasi-judicial body composed of judges and environment experts to ensure expeditious disposal of cases.
- The National Green Tribunal was established in 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 as a statutory body.
- It was set up for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
- It also ensures enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property.
- The Tribunal is mandated to make and endeavour for disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing of the same.
- Initially, the NGT is proposed to be set up at five places of sittings and will follow circuit procedure for making itself more accessible.
- New Delhi is the Principal Place of Sitting of the Tribunal and Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai shall be the other four places of sitting of the Tribunal.
Power of NGT:
- The Tribunal has jurisdiction over all civil cases involving substantial questions relating to the environment (including enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment).
- Courts, apart from original jurisdiction on filing of an application, NGT also has appellate jurisdiction to hear appeal as a Court (Tribunal).
- While passing any order/decision/ award, it shall apply the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle.
- An appeal against order/decision/ award of the NGT lies to the Supreme Court, generally within ninety days from the date of communication.
- In case of non-compliance with any direction issued by the NGT or any of its judgements, a penalty can be imposed in which the person may be given imprisonment for about three years or fine which may extend to Rs. 10 crores or even both. If someone still continues to disobey the orders given by the Tribunal then in such cases a fine of Rs. 20,000 may be imposed on a daily basis.
Composition of NGT:
- The Tribunal is headed by the Chairperson who sits in the Principal Bench and has at least ten but not more than twenty judicial members and at least ten but not more than twenty expert members.
- For the post of Chairperson, a person should be one who is or has been a Supreme Court’s Judge or a High Court’s Chief Justice.
- Judicial member is a person who is or has been a High Court’s Judge.
- The Chairperson of the National Green Tribunal is appointed for a period of five years.
- The Chairperson, if he is or has been a Supreme Court Judge shall not hold office after 70 years of age. In case, if he is or has been a High Court judge then he shall not hold office after 67 years of age.
Landmark Judgement of NGT:
- In 2012, POSCO, a steelmaker company signed a MoU with the Odisha government to set up a steel project. NGT suspended the order and this was considered a radical step in favour of the local communities and forests.
- In 2012 Almitra H. Patel vs. Union of India case, NGT gave judgment of complete prohibition on open burning of waste on lands, including landfills
- In 2013 in the Uttarakhand floods case, the Alaknanda Hydro Power Co. Ltd. was ordered to compensate the petitioner.
- In 2015, the NGT ordered that all diesel vehicles over 10 years old will not be permitted to ply in Delhi-NCR.
- In 2017, the Art of Living Festival on Yamuna Flood Plain was declared violating the environmental norms, the NGT panel imposed a penalty of Rs. 5 Crore.
- The NGT, in 2017, imposed an interim ban on plastic bags of less than 50-micron thickness in Delhi.
Challenges of NGT:
- Two important acts – 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.
- Decisions of NGT have also been criticized and challenged due to their repercussions on economic growth and development.
- The absence of a formula based mechanism in determining the compensation has also brought criticism to the tribunal.
- 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 the environment can’t be left at the discretion of an individual especially on subjective assessment whether environment damage is substantial or not.
- NGT Jurisdiction is confined to where the community at large is affected by specific forms of activity such as pollution. It excludes individuals or groups of individuals who deserve as much protection as Community at Large.
- The qualifications for a technical member are more favorable to bureaucrats (especially retired) and to irrelevant technocrats.
- Moving from a judicial forum to an oversight body:- By shutting down the redressal mechanism through court-room argumentation, the NGT seems to have limited its role to merely an oversight body, rather than a judicial forum. This has also contributed to a slow decline in public confidence in the Tribunal.
- Excessive delegation to committees:- NGT has constituted numerous external committees to look into various aspects of cases, to oversee and monitor the compliance of different environmental laws and rules, and to submit a report thereafter. There are more than 90 committees set up, and Committee Raj is taking over the Tribunal.