Its Hits And Misses
In India people are slowly and steadily becoming environmentally aware and vigilant. We are also seeing a culture in politics where political parties are considering environmental issues a hot topic to debate upon and prioritizing and giving space to measures that they shall undertake to improve the condition of the environment in their election manifestos. People of our country want development without harming the ecosystem or say Vikas which is eco-friendly. In such a situation where people are getting more cautious of the environment around themselves as right to clean environment comes under Art.21 of the Indian Constitution, role of the judiciary becomes very important. Our country has a specialized court that hears matters related to environment which is called as National Green Tribunal.
The National Green Tribunal came into existence after the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (Act 19 of 2010) was enacted by the Parliament of India. Before the NGT was enacted, all the environmental disputes were heard by the National Environment Appellate Authority which was body created by the parliament of India in the year 1997. However it had certain limitations like it only dealt with environmental clearances and was under the thumb of Ministry of Environment and Forests due to which a strong need for a powerful independent authority was felt to deal with environmental issues.
This year the NGT has completed 10 years of existence. We need to know the impact the hon’ble tribunal has had over protecting the environment of the country and at the same time understand what are the problems which the hon’ble tribunal is currently facing.
A) Impact and the positives of the NGT
The NGT is an independent body established under the National Green Tribunals Act, 2010. One of the best provisions of the Act are that the tribunal wont reject any suit/petition filed just because it involves complex, scientific and technical questions which are beyond the purview of the court. This would encourage people filing cases against those activities and situations which harm the environment.
Next factor is that the tribunal consists of eight experts from different fields ranging from physics to botany etc. which makes the NGT capable in handling different petitions involving complexity. This undoubtedly encourages the NGT to admit petitions which might involve questions which are too scientific for a jurist to comprehend thereby increasing its jurisdiction.
The NGT has been very successful in bringing the big corporate structures and governments comply with environmental laws and hold them accountable for the steps which are detrimental for the environment through its verdicts. Pollution in North India especially Delhi has become a huge problem to tackle. The NGT, way back in 2014, had taken a note of the rising pollution levels in Delhi in the case of Vardhaman Kaushik v. Union of India. The hon’ble tribunal had directed a committee to prepare an action plan to tackle the problem and had issued various guidelines. The guidelines included restriction on parking of vehicles which more than 15 year old on the roads, restriction on burning of plastic and other hazardous materials, creation of cycle tracks, installation of air purifiers etc.
The NGT has also questioned the MoEF for the arbitrary clearances given to various without going through a proper process specified through various Environmental Impact Assessment Notification. One of them being the case of Adivasi Majdoor Kisan Ekta Sangthan v. Ministry of Environment and Forests. This strong approach towards protecting the environment is not only beneficial for maintaining and preserving nature but also promoting and safeguarding the rights of the adivasis and tribes who live in forests.
B) Problems with the NGT
There are certain problems which the NGT has been facing since a long time and no heed is being paid to them. One of the important things which need to be addressed is that it is not empowered to hear all environmental matters. Matters related to Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 including laws framed by various state governments cannot be taken up by the NGT. It faces a lot of administrative problems one of them being vacancy of posts. Many a times there is lack to quorum to hear cases.
A trend has been observed that there has been outright dismissal of petitions filed before the NGT. The current chairman of the NGT has declared that no notices would be issued and only those petitions which are important would be entertained by the NGT. This subtle rejection of the petitions filed before the NGT would discourage people from approaching courts when it concerns any environmental problem thus defeating the entire purpose for which NGT was actually formed.
Looking at the current situation it is very evident that the problems and the negative aspects of the NGT have overpowered the positives and the purpose for which the NGT was formed. After 10 years, it is evident that the NGT needs to be restructured to ensure that its purpose is fulfilled and well realized. The central government and the state governments have to come together and work for the betterment of the NGT.