cries-of-judicial-overreach-put-the-spotlight-on-national-green-tribunal-summary

Context: The recent decision of NTPC Ltd to legally challenge an order of the National Green Tribunal or NGT on the grounds of judicial overreach has once again put the spotlight for all the wrong reasons on the tribunal.

More on the news:

  • NTPC, the state-run power producer, is challenging the NGT’s February,2020 order instructing it to install flue-gas desulfurization (FGD), at its 2,980 megawatts super thermal power plant at Sipat in Chhattisgarh.
    • Flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) is a technology for removing sulfur dioxide from exhaust.
  • This is the latest of several grievances filed before the SC claiming that the NGT erred in interpreting section 20 of the NGT Act to assume jurisdiction for something that is statutorily not within its domain. 

Section 20 in The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010:Tribunal to apply certain principles

  • The Tribunal shall, while passing any order or decision or award, apply the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle.
    • The polluter pays principle is enacted to make the party responsible for producing pollution responsible for paying for the damage done to the natural environment.

Reactions of the industrialists

  • Many industrialists have opinionated that the onset of COVID-19 has only made it more imperative to revisit the original charter of the NGT, particularly with respect to the compliance burden on industry and frequent instances of judicial overreach.
  • Already burdened by disruptions in supply chains, shortage of labor, and capital, the domestic industry will be unable to absorb this additional shock, according to experts.

Issue of delegation of power by NGT

  • NGT has recently adopted a new approach in dealing with cases— “dismiss, dispose, delegate and de-reserve", and delegating decision making to empowered committees. 
    • However, a shift from a judicial forum to an oversight body appears to be a hugely regressive step taken in the fight for environmental justice.
  • Impression that the NGT is abrogating its own jurisdiction
    • NGT has currently set up more than 90 external committees to look into various aspects of cases, oversee and monitor compliance of different environmental laws and to report.
  • Functioning of these expert committees
    • The committees are formed which have no direct connection to the issue at stake and neither do they possess the expertise
    • Also, the panel members do not have any powers under the NGT Act or any other authority which can help them to complete their report and findings correctly.
      • In the absence of these, the findings of such a committee does not help the tribunal much to reach a specific conclusion

About NGT

  • The National Green Tribunal was established in 2010 as per the National Green Tribunal Act,2010.
  • It is a specialized judicial body equipped with expertise solely for the purpose of adjudicating environmental cases in the country.
  • The Tribunal is tasked with providing effective and expeditious remedy in cases relating to environmental protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources and enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment. 
  • Additionally, the Tribunal is not bound by procedure under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 or the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and is guided by principles of natural justice. 
  • The Tribunal’s orders are binding and it has the power to grant relief in the form of compensation and damages to affected persons.
  • The statutes in Schedule I are:
    • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;
    • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977;
    • The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;
    • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
    • The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986;
    • The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991;
    • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
  • Members 
    • The Tribunal comprises the Chairperson, the Judicial Members, and Expert Members. 
    • They shall hold office for a term of five years and are not eligible for reappointment.
    • The Chairperson is appointed by the Central Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

Conclusion:

  • Looking at the disruptions caused by COVID-19, NGT should take a balanced view of the compliances till the situation returns to normal.
  • NGT can be equipped with domain specialists well versed in the complexities of industrial operations.
  • Considering the problems it should also be realised that establishing the NGT has been a remarkable event for India and the tribunal is doing a great job despite the shortage of resources and non-appointment of judicial and expert members. 
  • NGT has successfully ensured that the polluters begin to fear the environmental laws in India and that itself is a remarkable achievement.
  • Like all courts, it is possible that some decisions of the NGT may also be criticized however that in no way negates the good work being done by the tribunal.

​​​​​​​Image Source: Mint