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No-go tribunal

The National Green Tribunal remains on paper

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

For all its visible activism, it is not clear why the Union environment ministry has remained slow in activating the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which came into being in October 2010. No appointments have been made to the NGT after Parliament passed the NGT Act last October. The ministry has also not yet framed the rules under the Act. The NGT is mandated to have between 10 and 20 judicial members and 10 to 20 experts on environment and allied sciences. Besides, it is supposed to have its circuit branches all over the country. These have also not yet been established. Worse, the deadline of mid-January, set by the Supreme Court in response to a public interest litigation, to make the NGT operational, has been allowed to be missed. In fact, the environment ministry is also supposed to create a national environment protection authority (NEPT) as part of the proposed reformed system of environmental governance. This is also yet to be constituted.

The laxity on this count seems baffling because the environment ministry had itself mooted the proposal to create the green court system, distinct from the civic judiciary, to handle environment related lawsuits. It has, significantly, been empowered to order compensation and restitution of damage caused to environment. Equally significantly, it is expected to relieve the already over-burdened judiciary of extra load of adjudicating on the growing number of environment related cases taking technical and policy aspects into account. Over 5,000 cases pertaining to this field are already pending before different courts. Given the technical nature of these cases, the apex court and many high courts have set up committees of environment experts to assist them in taking the decisions. The NGT, being technically a tribunal and possessing in-house expertise on the subject, may not be bound to strictly adhere to the procedures laid down in the outdated Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but can, instead, be guided by the principles of natural and scientifically sound justice.

The move to create a dedicated judiciary for environment litigation has generally been hailed as a good initiative. Australia and New Zealand are the only other countries to have a similar system in place. Such a judicial mechanism is deemed necessary in view of the twin imperatives of environment protection and fast economic development. This, as can well be expected, is giving rise to disputes and grievances that require arbitration and redressal. Of late, several big-ticket, albeit highly controversial, episodes concerning environment ministry’s orders and objections to realty, mining and other projects have come to the fore. But, unfortunately, no grievance redressal system is in place since October last because the NGT is in hibernation and the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) has been wound up due to the repealing of the NEAA Act under which it was created. In fact, all the work pending before it has been transferred to the non-functional NGT. In any case, even the NEAA was, for some inexplicable reasons, not allowed to function to its full potential since long. It had no chairperson for several years. Against this background, it is even more puzzling why the NGT remains non-operational even now.

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First Published: Tue, February 01 2011. 00:54 IST