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Government planning to clip National Green Tribunal's wings

May set up panel to review the Act establishing it, say sources

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) plans to amend the National Green Tribunal Act, which was passed during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime. The move will result in dilution of the powers of the body. According to sources, preliminary discussions for amending the law have begun.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is the only judicial body below the Supreme Court before which cases related to environment and forests can be filed. NGT is also the first recourse anybody except the project proponent has to be heard on any environmental and forest clearances. The clearance processes, handled by the ministry's statutory advisory bodies, do not have a fixed process of engaging with other stakeholders directly. The NGT hears all first challenges to environmental and forest clearances. Its orders can be appealed against in the Supreme Court.

Ever since its inception, the tribunal has had trouble with MoEF on various counts - to begin with, even on providing the infrastructure needed to run it. The Supreme Court had to step in and force the government to act when some judicial members of the tribunal resigned.

The NGT is chaired by a retired Supreme Court justice or a high court chief justice. It is required to have 10-20 judicial members and 10-20 expert members on board with benches operating across the country. The full strength of the benches has not been established till date.

According to a highly-placed source in the ministry, the preliminary discussions on amending the Act have been held and the government is considering setting up a committee to review the law.

Another senior official in the ministry said the move follows deliberations at the highest level in the government.

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar did not respond to queries for the story. While Union environment secretary V Rajagopalan confirmed the move, he told Business Standard the matter was still at an early-discussion stage.

One of the ideas proposed in the discussions was to look at turning the existing judicial tribunal into an administrative one under the ministry itself. In one of the recent cases, the Union government and the petitioners questioned the NGT's powers to question the correctness of environmental rules and regulations. Under the NGT law, the tribunal has jurisdiction over "all civil cases where a substantial question relating to environment is involved", which arise out of the implementation of laws under its purview. The NGT overruled them, but the government is considering appealing the judgment before the Supreme Court.

On several occasions in the past two years, the tribunal has hauled up several environment ministry officials, as well as state authorities, for falling foul of law. In a recent judgment, the tribunal even criticised the environment minister for non-application of mind in a case. However, only in rare cases has the NGT sent the project clearance back for re-appraisal or suspended it.

In another recent judgment, the NGT had held it illegal to hire the services of retired bureaucrats as chairs of the statutory expert appraisal committees that review projects for environmental clearances. It had also forced the government's hand earlier in implementing the Western Ghat reports restricting polluting industries in the hill reaches of biodiversity-rich areas.



NOT A GREEN SCENE YET
  • The National Green Tribunal was set up based on the National Green Tribunal Act, passed during the UPA regime
  • NGT is now the only judicial body below the Supreme Court before which cases related to environment and forests can be filed
  • It hears all first challenges to environmental and forest clearances and its orders can be appealed against in the Supreme Court
  • The tribunal is chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge or the chief justice of a high court. It is required to have 10-20 judicial members and 10-20 expert members, with Benches operating across the country
  • The full strength of the Benches has not been established till date
  • The government is considering setting up a committee to review the National Green Tribunal Act and might turn the judicial tribunal in to an administrative one under the ministry itself

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First Published: Wed, August 06 2014. 00:50 IST
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