Under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, National Green Tribunal was established in the year 2010.Article 21 guarantees the citizen of India the right to healthy environment. India is the third country following Australia and New Zealand to have such system. The tribunal is a special fast-track quasi-judicial body comprising of judges and environment expert who will ensure expeditious disposal of cases.
“An Act to provide for the establishment of a National Green Tribunal for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.
On 18 October 2010, Justice Lokeshwar Singh Panta became the first Chairman of National Green Tribunal (NGT). Presently Justice Umesh Dattatraya Salvi is the chairman of NGT.
The Supreme Court in M. C. Mehta v. Union of India observed that “Environment Court” must be established for expeditious disposal of environmental cases and reiterated it time and again. As a sequel to it the National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995 and National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 19974 were passed by the Indian Parliament. But both the Act proves non-starter. They could not cut much ice and there was a growing demand that some legislation must be passed to deal with environmental cases more efficiently and efficaciously. Ultimately the Indian Parliament Passed The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 to handle all the cases relating to environmental issues.
In Charanlal Sahu v. Union of India the court opined that “under the existing civil law damages are determined by the civil Courts, after a long drawn litigation, which destroys the very purpose of awarding damages so in order to meet the situation, to avoid delay and to ensure immediate relief to the victims, the law should provide for constitution of tribunal regulated by special procedure for determining compensation to victims of industrial disaster or accident, appeal against which may lie to this Court on the limited ground of questions of law only after depositing the amount determined by the tribunal.”
Procedure for filing an Application or Appeal
The National Green Tribunal has a simple procedure to file an application seeking compensation for environmental damage. If the party is not satisfied with the decision can file an application before tribunal against an appeal, an order or any decision of the Government.
If no claim for compensation is involved in an application / appeal, a fee of Rs. 1000/- is to be paid. In case where compensation is being claimed, the fee will be one percent of the amount of compensation subject to a minimum of Rs. 1000/-.
Claim for Compensation
1. Relief / compensation to the victims of pollution and other environmental damage including accidents including accidents involving hazardous substances;
2. Restitution of property damaged; 3. Restitution of the environment for such areas as determined by the National Green Tribunal.
No application for grant of any compensation or relief or restitution of property or environment shall be entertained unless it is made within a period of five years from the date on which the cause for such compensation or relief first arose.
Jurisdiction of the tribunal
The National Green Tribunal has power to hear all civil cases relating to environmental issues and questions that are linked to the implementation of laws listed in Schedule I of the NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL Act. These included the following.
1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1947;
2. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution ) Cess Act, 1947;
3. The Forest ( Conservation ) Act, 1980;
4. The Air ( Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
5. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1991;
6. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991;
7. The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
REVIEW MECHANISM UNDER NGT ACT
Under Rule 22 of the NGT Rules, a review of a decision or an Order of NGT can be done. An NGT Order can also be challenged before the Supreme Court within ninety days.
But, in the recent times conflicts are brewing between National Green Tribunal and the High courts. As per the National Green Tribunal Act, appeals from National Green Tribunal can only go to the Supreme Court, thus by-passing the high courts. However, a division bench of the Madras High Court in February 2014 held that high courts do have jurisdiction to entertain appeals against the orders of the NGT under Article 226/227 of the Constitution of India.
National Green Tribunal makes one more innovation by providing strict penalty for non-observation of the order of the tribunal. This will allow implementation of the order of the tribunal.Coming to dark side of the Act, the rules relating to constitution and composition of selection committee tilts the balance of power in favor of Central Government. Keeping in view the repeat of the National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995 and the National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997 by the present Act, it is submitted that legislation should become operational in letter and spirit to provide much needed relief against offences/complaints for degradation of environment.
The present legislation provides interference and control by the central Government in the affairs and processes of the tribunal which should be avoided to give tribunal an unrestricted hand to decide the inherent matter as proceedings.
Author details: SAKSHI RAWAT (University of Petroleum & Energy Studies, Dehradun)
The views of the author are personal only.