IASbhai Daily Editorial Hunt | 19th Oct 2020
You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.– Richard Branson
EDITORIAL HUNT #195 :“10th Anniversary of the National Green Tribunal | UPSC”
10th Anniversary of the National Green Tribunal | UPSC
Jairam Ramesh is a Member of Parliament and the Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests
The hues in the green tribunal’s resilient journey
Over 10 years, the NGT has made a difference to environmental protection, helped by a new tribe of legal practitioners
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 2 : NGT : Tribunals
In the absence of NGT protection of environment and ecology would be a difficult task for High Courts and Supreme Courts. Analyse the role of NGT in the last decade -(GS 2)
- Birth of NGT
- Systemic challenges and Complexities
- Track record of NGT
- CHALLENGING MANDATE : Few ministries can boast of as varied, diverse, and challenging a mandate as the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
- ENCOMPASSING BIODIVERSITY : The downside to this vast and all-encompassing scope, which covers forests, wildlife, environment, climate change and coastal protection.
- LITIGATIONS : It gives rise to an equally diverse volume of litigation.
COMPLEXITIES FROM DAY ONE
- COMPLEXITY OF CASES : The sheer number and complexity of cases, with several more being added every week, led the Supreme Court of India to designate a special Bench to handle these matters.
- FOREST BENCH : This Bench, which met every Friday to deliberate on these and many other matters, came to be known fittingly as the ‘Forest Bench’.
- PENDING CASES : Given the time constraints of the top court and the High Courts, some cases had been pending for decades and in turn, delayed the process.
- IMPROVISED SOLUTIONS : Despite the efforts of the capable officers and experts assisting the Supreme Court, this was at best an ad hoc solution.
STAGES IN AN EVOLUTION
- BACKGROUND : Parliament had passed laws related to the establishment of a National Environment Tribunal (1995) and a National Environment Appellate Authority (1997).
- INITIALISATION : The Authority was intended to act primarily as a forum for challenges to environmental clearances .
- AUTHORITY : The Tribunal could award limited amounts of compensation in cases of environmental damage to life or property.
- NEED FOR A DEDICATED BODY : It was clear that the enforcement, protection, and adjudication of environmental laws required a specialised and dedicated body.
- REDUCING THE BURDEN : A tribunal, staffed with judges and environmental experts, would need to be empowered to hear these issues so that the burden on the High Courts and the Supreme Court could be reduced.
- DELIBERATIONS : The quality of time spent on these issues could also be increased as, unlike the Supreme Court, the tribunal could have benches in various States, thereby increasing access to all citizens.
BIRTH OF NGT
M.C. MEHTA & ANR. ETC VS UNION OF INDIA & ORS.ETC (1986) :
- CJI P.N. BHAGWATI : Suggested -“to the Government of India that since cases involving issues of environmental pollution etc are increasingly coming up for adjudication and these cases involve assessment and evolution of scientific and technical data.
- EXPERTISE : It might be desirable to set up Environmental Courts on the regional basis with one professional Judge and two experts drawn from the Ecological Sciences keeping in view the nature of the case and the expertise required for its adjudication.
- THE GREEN COURT : There would of course be a right of appeal to this Court from the decision of the Environment Court.
A.P. POLLUTION CONTROL BOARD VS PROF. M.V. NAYUDU
- LANDMARK CASE : These observations were recalled in 1999 by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of A.P. Pollution Control Board vs Prof. M.V. Nayudu .
- TURBULENT TIMES : The NGT’s first year was a turbulent one. Unlike the opaque legislative process followed today.
- CONTENTIONS : The first draft of the NGT Bill was circulated as part of a pre-legislative consultation process and inspired widespread debate.
THE TRACK RECORD
- INNUMERABLE CONTRIBUTIONS : Since its inception, the NGT has, apart from creating a new breed of legal practitioners, protected vast acres of forest land, halted polluting construction activities in metros and smaller towns.
- PENAL ACTIONS : It has penalised errant officials who have turned a blind eye towards enforcing the laws, and held large corporate entities to account.
- PROTECTING FOREST RIGHTS : It has protected the rights of tribal communities and ensured the enforcement of the “polluter pays” principle in letter and spirit.
A CHANGE IN ATTITUDE
- DILUTING THE CRITERIA : Three years ago, in a fashion similar to what has been done with the Right to Information Act, the State attempted to dilute the criteria for appointments to the NGT and other tribunals.
- CHALLENGED IN THE COURT OF LAW : The rules (though not the Rule making power) were ultimately suspended by the Supreme Court.
- LESS GOVERNANCE MORE ADJUDICATION : But key challenges remain: the NGT must focus less on governance issues and more on adjudication.
- FILLING UP THE VACANCIES : Benches have to expand manifold. Vacancies have to be filled quickly.
In its next decade, the NGT must continue to remain a proactive ‘inconvenience’ to all those who, while pontificating grandiloquently on the need for environmental protection, take actions that make economic growth ecologically unsustainable.
SOURCES: THE HINDU EDITORIAL HUNT | 10th Anniversary of the National Green Tribunal | UPSC