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Atul Dubey

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The NGT Act, when read as a whole, gives much leeway to the NGT to go beyond a mere adjudicatory role. The Parliament’s intention is clearly discernible to create a multifunctional body, with the capacity to provide redressal for environmental exigencies.

-Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai v. Ankita Sinha (2021)

The need for National Green Tribunal (NGT) was first felt by the Supreme Court during the incident of the Oleum gas leak that happened in 1986 & later by the 186th Law Commission Report, 2003. The establishment of NGT was also a product of rendering the right of enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life under article 21 of the Constitution by the Supreme Court in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar. The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is not applicable to NGT however the rules of Natural Justice are followed. The functioning of NGT is directed by two fundamental standards ‘the polluter pays principle’ and ‘sustainable development’.

Before the enactment of the NGT Act, 2010, there were two Acts that existed for the foundation of particular ecological courts in the Nation. These two were the National Environmental Tribunal Act, 1995, and National Environmental Appellate Authority, 1997. But this Act foundered in accomplishing its destinations and became old. The requirement for a more reinforced and enabled authority was felt to discard ecological related debates. Consequently, the National Green Tribunal was set up under the NGT Act, 2010. NGT is an outcome of different global Conventions like the Stockholm Convention, Earth Summit, and other Summits.

After the historical judgments delivered by the Supreme Court i.e. MC Mehta v. Union of India, (1986) 2 SCC 176, Indian Council for Environmental Legal Action v. Union of India, (1996) 3 SCC 212, AP Pollution Control Board v. MV Nayudu, (1999) 2 SCC 718 and AP Pollution Control Board v. MV Nayudu, (2001) 2 SCC 62 there was need of special court wherein matters related to the environment would be solved. Explaining the purpose of constituting the special courts/tribunals (NGT) to deal with the environmental issues was explained in Mantri Techzone (P) Ltd. v. Forward Foundation, (2019) 18 SCC 494 as “the Tribunal has been established under a constitutional mandate provided in Schedule VII List I Entry 13 of the Constitution of India, to implement the decision taken at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.”

What does Suo Motu Power mean?

Suo Motu is a Latin term which means an action taken by a government agency, court, or other central authority on their own worry. The word Suo moto cognizance signifies that the court can take up cases by their own notice, without any petition being filed, or interest being brought before them. In Articles 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution, this power is justified. The Apex Court is granted with Suo moto power in Article 131 of the Indian Constitution.

What is the issue revolving around NGT Suo Moto power?

Whether the NGT has the power to directly take up issues on the basis on news reports or letter or any communication?

A Bench comprising of Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice Hrishikesh Roy, and Justice CT Ravikumar had appointed amicus curiae i.e. friend of the court, Senior Advocate Anand Grover who supported that the view of the Centre Government that NGT cannot be bestowed with the suo motu power. The Court the issue arises with the general term ‘Suo Motu’. So when the communication is done by affidavit or letter should NGT consider it?

Does NGT Act contain any provision that permits to take up cases on its own?

Senior Advocate Parikh stated that NGT has to be looked at with aims, objectives, preamble, Section 14, 15, and 19. Further, he submitted that Section 2(m) (ii) of the NGT Act and expressed that, above stated sections does not require a statutory duty, if there is pollution then the question is if it can be treated as a substantial question. Section 2(m) deals with the substantial question in relation to the environment shall include an instance where-

 i) there is a direct violation of a specific statutory environmental obligation by a person by which, a) the community at large other than an individual or group of individuals is affected or likely to be affected by the environmental consequences, or b) the gravity of damage to the environment or property is substantial, or c) the damage to public health is broadly measurable; ii) the environmental consequences relate to a specific activity or a point source of pollution.

The amicus curiae added that Section 14 states that NGT shall have Jurisdiction over the cases wherein a substantial question relating to the environment is involved. He further mentioned whenever the issue is raised by an application or letter or newspaper report, the Tribunal should ask for a report from executing authority according to which further proceedings would continue. Whenever the suo motu case is transferred to NGT, it forms a committee that furnishes a report according to which further proceedings are carried on.

Supreme Court’s decision

The Supreme Court 3-judge bench decided on the question of law in Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai v. Ankita Sinha as to whether NGT can exercise suo motu power under the scheme of the Act. The need for suo moto power was recognized on the premise that “The NGT must be seen as a sui generis institution and not unus multorum, and its special and exclusive role to foster public interest in the area of environmental domain delineated in the enactment of 2010 must necessarily receive legal recognition of this Court.” Further, it was noted that the constitutional mandate also requires the enforcement of Article 21 with respect to the environment and in the context observed that the Tribunal has special jurisdiction for enforcement of environmental rights.

Noting the procedure be adopted by the NGT while initiating the suo motu cases as a notice to be given to the sender of the communication or author of the news item, as the case may be, to assist the NGT in the course of hearing and to substantiate the factual matters.”

Lastly, the Court while declaring the NGT has suo motu power observed as

“…..the National Green Tribunal must act, if the exigencies so demand, without indefinitely waiting for the metaphorical Godot to knock on its portal………It is accordingly declared that the NGT is vested with suo motu power in discharge of its functions under the NGT Act.”

Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2021
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