The Supreme Court upheld several provisions of a statute under which the National Green Tribunal (NGT) was set up and ruled out a plea to have an NGT branch in every state and Union Territory.
The order came on a petition filed by Madhya Pradesh High Court Advocates Bar Association and the District Bar Association, having their registered offices at Jabalpur, which demanded for a bench in each state having a High Court.
National Green Tribunal
• The National Green Tribunal (NGT) was established on October 18, 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
• It is a specialised body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues.
• NGT has five places of sitting — the principal bench at New Delhi and zonal benches at Pune, Kolkata, Bhopal and Chennai.
• The Tribunal is headed by the chairperson who sits in the principal bench and has at least ten but not more than twenty judicial members and at least ten but not more than twenty expert members.
• Any person seeking relief and compensation for environmental damage involving subjects in the legislations mentioned in Schedule I of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 may approach the Tribunal.
Why was NGT set up?
• The precursor to the NGT Act was the 186th Report of the Law Commission of India submitted in March 2003 which came after the Supreme Court repeatedly urged Parliament through various judgments to establish specialised environmental courts, with qualified judges and technical experts on the bench.
• The Supreme Court also put forward that there should be direct appeals to the Supreme Court from such environmental courts.
• The Law Commission then recommended creation of a specialised court to deal with the environmental issues. The Law Commission expressed the view that it is not convenient for the High Courts and the Supreme Court to make local inquiries or to receive evidence.
• Moreover, the superior Courts will not have access to expert environmental scientists on permanent basis to assist them.
• The NGT was conceived as a complementary specialised forum to deal with all multidisciplinary environmental issues, both as original as well as an appellate authority.
• The specialised forum was also made free from the rules of evidence applicable to normal courts and was permitted to lay down its own procedure to entertain oral and documentary evidence, consult experts etc, with specific mandate to observe the principles of natural justice.
• The right to a healthy environment has been construed as a part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution in the judicial pronouncement in India.
• The NGT is set up under the constitutional mandate under Entry 13 List I of Schedule VII to enforce Article 21 in regard to the environment and the Tribunal was conferred special jurisdiction for enforcement of environmental rights.
No major backlog issue
• The Supreme Court noted that the total disposal by all benches of the NGT is 2,799 cases during 12 months (between March 2021 to February 2022).
• The pendency figure for this period is 2,237 only. The rate of disposal being higher than the pendency, no major backlog issue is seen before the NGT.
• With the low caseload, if the NGT benches are set up in all 28 states and 8 Union Territories as is suggested by the petitioners, the judges and other members in these forums might be left twiddling their thumbs.
• Accordingly, no basis is seen to allow one NGT bench in every state, the SC said.