From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : NGT
Mains level : NGT, concerns over it's underperformance and need for revival
What is the news?
- There are concerns regarding the underperformance of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) over the past five years which highlights the need for reform and revival.
- The National Green Tribunal (NGT) plays a crucial role in adjudicating environmental cases in India, upholding the principles of justice and fairness. However, over the past five years, the NGT has faced significant challenges and underperformance. There is need for reform and revival within the NGT, emphasizing the responsibility of lawyers to raise awareness about its shortcomings.
What is NGT?
- The NGT is a specialized judicial body in India established under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.
- Its primary purpose is to handle cases related to environmental issues and disputes.
- The NGT has jurisdiction over matters concerning the enforcement of environmental laws, conservation of natural resources, and the prevention and control of environmental pollution
Structure of NGT
- Chairperson: The NGT is headed by a Chairperson who is appointed by the Central Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI). The Chairperson holds a significant position of authority and leadership within the tribunal.
- Judicial Members: The NGT consists of Judicial Members who possess legal qualifications and expertise. These members are responsible for adjudicating on environmental cases and applying legal principles to make informed decisions.
- Expert Members: Expert Members are appointed to the NGT to provide specialized knowledge and expertise in specific fields related to the environment. These members bring scientific, technical, or environmental expertise to assist in the decision-making process.
- Selection Committee: A Selection Committee is formed by the Central Government to appoint both the Judicial Members and Expert Members of the NGT. This committee plays a crucial role in the selection process, ensuring the appointment of qualified individuals.
- Tenure and Age Limit: Members of the NGT, including the Chairperson, serve a term of three years or until they reach the age of sixty-five, whichever comes earlier. They are not eligible for reappointment after completing their term.
- Number of Members: The NGT Act specifies that there should be a minimum of ten and a maximum of twenty full-time Judicial Members and Expert Members in the tribunal. The actual number of members may vary within this range based on the requirements and workload of the NGT
Powers & Jurisdiction of NGT
- Jurisdiction over Civil Cases: The NGT has jurisdiction over all civil cases that involve substantial questions related to the environment. This includes matters concerning the enforcement of legal rights associated with the environment.
- Suo Motu Powers: The NGT has been granted “unique” forum status by the Supreme Court, which empowers it with suo motu (on its own motion) powers. This means that the NGT can take up environmental issues across the country without requiring a specific case to be filed before it.
- Adjudicatory and Preventative Roles: The NGT not only performs an adjudicatory function but is also entrusted with vital roles that are preventative, ameliorative, or remedial in nature. This implies that the NGT has a broader mandate beyond purely resolving disputes and is empowered to take preventive or remedial measures to address environmental concerns.
- Appellate Jurisdiction: In addition to its original jurisdiction, where parties can file applications before the NGT, the tribunal also possesses appellate jurisdiction. This means that it can hear appeals as a court (tribunal) on matters within its purview.
- Guided by Principles of Natural Justice: While the NGT is not bound by the procedural rules outlined in the Code of Civil Procedure 1908, it is guided by the principles of natural justice. This ensures fairness and due process in its proceedings and decision-making.
- Principles of Sustainable Development: In making its orders, decisions, or awards, the NGT applies the principles of sustainable development, precautionary principle, and polluter pays principle. These principles guide the tribunal in achieving a balance between environmental protection and development.
- Relief and Compensation: The NGT has the power to provide relief and compensation to victims of pollution and other forms of environmental damage. It can order restitution of damaged property and restoration of the environment in specific areas as it deems appropriate.
- Execution of Orders: The orders, decisions, or awards of the NGT can be executed as decrees of a civil court. This ensures that the directions issued by the tribunal are enforceable and have legal weight.
- Penalty for Non-compliance: The NGT Act provides a procedure for penalties in case of non-compliance. This includes imprisonment for a term that may extend to three years, fines that may extend to ten crore rupees, or both, depending on the nature and severity of the violation.
- Laws Covered: The NGT deals with civil cases arising from seven laws related to the environment, including 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.
Concerns regarding NGT
- Lack of Judicial Oversight: One of the major concerns raised is the delegation of judicial work to expert committees, which resulted in a lack of judicial oversight. The reports of these committees were often accepted without hearing the affected parties, violating the principles of natural justice. This undermines the fair and transparent functioning of the NGT.
- Violation of Natural Justice: There are concerns regarding the failure to hear the parties affected by the orders issued by the expert committees goes against the basic principles of natural justice. Natural justice dictates that no one should be condemned behind their backs, and all parties should have the opportunity to present their arguments and evidence.
- Questionable Application of Polluter Pays Principle: The concerns have been raised about the application of the Polluter Pays principle by the NGT. There are discrepancies in the self-made report published by the NGT, which fails to acknowledge the outcome of challenges to the orders imposing Environmental Compensation.
- Bias Against Development and Industry: The concern expressed over the term compensation regime used to describe the NGT’s approach during the mentioned tenure. This term suggests a bias against development and industry, which may hinder the balance between economic growth and environmental conservation.
- Credibility and Transparency: The questions raised on the credibility and transparency of the NGT, particularly regarding the self-certification report published on its website. Such self-assessment raises doubts about the objectivity and reliability of the report and undermines the credibility of the NGT as an independent judicial body.
Need for reform and revival of the NGT
- Addressing Underperformance: The NGT has experienced underperformance over the past five years, as mentioned in the article. This can hinder its effectiveness in handling environmental cases and achieving its objectives. Reform is necessary to improve the NGT’s performance and ensure it fulfils its intended purpose.
- Judicial Oversight and Natural Justice: The delegation of judicial work to expert committees and the lack of proper judicial oversight raise concerns about the NGT’s decision-making process. It is important to reform the system to enhance judicial oversight and uphold the principles of natural justice, ensuring fair hearings and comprehensive evaluations of cases.
- Credibility and Transparency: The credibility and transparency of the NGT have been called into question. The publication of a self-made report card exclusively covering the tenure of the outgoing chairperson raises doubts about objectivity and transparency. Reform measures should focus on enhancing the credibility and transparency of the NGT’s operations and decision-making.
- Collaboration and International Standing: Reviving the NGT involves fostering collaborations with national and international organizations, research institutions, and experts. Such collaborations can strengthen the NGT’s knowledge base, exchange best practices, and enhance its standing on the global stage.
- Rebuilding Bar-Bench Relationship: The strained relationship between the bar (lawyers) and bench (NGT members) needs to be addressed. Reviving this relationship is crucial for effective representation of parties involved in environmental cases and to facilitate a constructive dialogue on environmental issues.
- Prioritizing Sustainability and Development Balance: While environmental protection is vital, the NGT’s approach should not be perceived as biased against development and industry. Reforms should strike a balance between environmental conservation and sustainable development, ensuring that economic growth and ecological concerns are harmonized.
- Transparent and Accountable Performance Evaluation: The NGT’s performance evaluation should be carried out in a transparent and accountable manner, avoiding any self-certification or subjective assessments. Establishing clear evaluation criteria and mechanisms can help monitor the NGT’s performance objectively.
- The NGT’s underperformance over the past five years necessitates urgent reform and revival. The next Chairperson must restore credibility, transparency, and respect within the institution, while also striking a balance between economic growth and environmental conservation. Through these efforts, the NGT can fulfill its vital role in addressing environmental challenges and upholding principles of justice