In the present scenario, we see environmental law as a wide term which encompasses various legislations, treaties, customs, etc., but initially, it emerged as a set of laws with specific objectives, for example, prevention of nuisance, strict liability principle, etc. The development of the different subject specific laws in the field of the environmental law has led to its development and has not only given enlarged its scope but has also added to its quality.
Human beings have always been a meddling entity. For his convenience, man has time and again brought changes to his natural habitat which has resulted in harmful impacts on the environment and has also swiped off many of the living species from the earth. Environmental Law, as the name suggests, is a body of rules and regulations relating to the environment, which functions to achieve the objectives of environmental protection. It includes all the treaties, statutes, rules, guidelines, customs, etc. which governs the conduct of a human being in their day-to-day lives as well as ensures its protection.
If we take a look at the present scenario in India, we find that the higher judiciary and the constitutional courts are always burdened with a backlog of cases. It was recently realized that the present set of environment-related complaints are on a rise due to a high level of environmental degradation done in the country. To have the effective disposal of the cases, the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 was enacted to create the National Green Tribunal for the facilitation of the judicial administration.
The Supreme Court of India was of the view that regional courts should be set up as environmental courts and should have a professional judge and two experts. A single judicial forum with jurisdiction under the Environment Act and other related environmental Acts over both criminal prosecutions and civil claims for violation of the laws should be established.
Thus, to clearly understand the aims and objectives of the National Green Tribunal Act, we need to understand the underlying aspects which were kept in mind while the above legislation was enacted. To bring out the social dimension of the Act, it is highly pertinent to delve into the aims and objectives thus reflecting the ideology of the lawmakers.
Structure of NGT
- The Tribunal comprises of the Chairperson, the Judicial Members and Expert Members. They shall hold office for term of five years and are not eligible for reappointment.
- The Chairperson is appointed by the Central Government in consultation with Chief Justice of India (CJI).
- A Selection Committee shall be formed by central government to appoint the Judicial Members and Expert Members.
- There are to be least 10 and maximum 20 full time Judicial members and Expert Members in the tribunal.
Powers & Jurisdiction
- The Tribunal has jurisdiction over all civil cases involving substantial question relating to environment (including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment).
- Being a statutory adjudicatory body like Courts, apart from original jurisdiction side on filing of an application, NGT also has appellate jurisdiction to hear appeal as a Court (Tribunal).
- The Tribunal is not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure 1908, but shall be guided by principles of ‘natural justice’.
- While passing any order/decision/ award, it shall apply the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle.
- NGT by an order, can provide
- Relief and compensation to the victims of pollution and other environmental damage (including accident occurring while handling any hazardous substance),
- For restitution of property damaged, and
- For restitution of the environment for such area or areas, as the Tribunal may think fit.
- An order/decision/award of Tribunal is executable as a decree of a civil court.
- The NGT Act also provides a procedure for a penalty for non compliance:
- Imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years,
- Fine which may extend to ten crore rupees, and
- Both fine and imprisonment.
- An appeal against order/decision/ award of the NGT lies to the Supreme Court, generally within ninety days from the date of communication.
- The NGT deals with civil cases under the seven laws related to the environment, these include:
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974,
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977,
- The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980,
- The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981,
- The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986,
- The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 and
- The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
- Any violation pertaining to these laws or any decision taken by the Government under these laws can be challenged before the NGT.
Strengths of NGT
- Over the years NGT has emerged as a critical player in environmental regulation, passing strict orders on issues ranging from pollution to deforestation to waste management.
- NGT offers a path for the evolution of environmental jurisprudence by setting up an alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
- It helps reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts on environmental matters.
- NGT is less formal, less expensive, and a faster way of resolving environment related disputes.
- It plays a crucial role in curbing environment-damaging activities.
- The Chairperson and members are not eligible for reappointment, hence they are likely to deliver judgements independently, without succumbing to pressure from any quarter.
- The NGT has been instrumental in ensuring that the Environment Impact Assessment process is strictly observed.
India’s stand in international documents
India, being not only a signatory and effective participant in the international conferences but also as a faithful follower of the dicta laid down by the participating States ,has enacted many legislations. While responding to the Supreme Court’s recommendation in 2003, The Law Commission proposed the construction of specialized environment courts, recently implemented through The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.The Act strengthens the framework of Global Environmental Governance.
Courts are still overburdened with environmental litigation, including the Green Benches that were specifically created speedy disposal of environmental cases. India remains a small minority, following New Zealand and Australia, to adopt Green Court legislation. The National Green Tribunal Act was enacted to fill the gaps in existing adjudicatory framework.
National Green Tribunal is in a way following the 17th principle of Stockholm Declaration, which states that “appropriate national institutions must be entrusted with the task of managing or controlling the environmental resources to (or “intending to”) enhance environmental quality”. International concern for the protection of the environment is not a recent issue but more than a century old which shows that for a long time, international summits did contribute a lot to the national legislations of environmental law all over the world.
The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 specifically aims at the creation of a National Green Tribunal which would help in the reduction of the burden of cases from the higher judiciary and effectively and efficiently dispose of issues relating to the environment, including basic rights of the individual for free and safe environment, protection of the flora and fauna, etc.
This act was created in consonance with the need to effectively manage and divert the increasing chunk of pending cases from the other organs of the judiciary. This tribunal was also created so that the basic right of the individuals to a safe environment can be safeguarded as part of Article 21 of the Constitution.
As the aims of the National Green Tribunal suggest, there is a huge importance attached to Article 21 of Constitution concerning environmental matters. The Supreme Court in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar observed that “Right to Live is a fundamental right under Article 21 of Constitution and includes right of enjoyment of pollution-free environment and if anything impairs that quality of life, a citizen has the right to have recourse under Article 32 by way of a petition.” Rights provided under Article 21 are basic rights and it cannot and should not be overlooked. Protection and preservation of the environment, ecological balance free from pollution of air and water comes within the ambit of the right to life and so ecological, environmental, air and water pollution should be regarded as a violation of Article 21.
The hygienic environment is an integral facet of healthy life (a fundamental right). Right to live with human dignity becomes meaningless in the absence of humane and healthy environment.
Part IV of the Constitution includes Directive Principles of State Policy, which although are not enforceable but are nonetheless very important and the court has now and then depended upon such principles which are given in Article 47 and 48 of the Constitution. Supreme Court opined that all environmental courts, tribunals and appellate authorities should be have a judge of the rank of a High Court or the Supreme Court, and a scientist or a group of scientists of high rank and experience for fair adjudication of environmental related disputes which precisely is the NGT is essential, keeping in view this requirement.