Competency of NGT in Suo Motu Cognizance

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NGT (National Green Tribunal), National Green Tribunal Act,2010 is an Act of the Parliament of India which enables the creation of a special tribunal to handle the speedy disposal of the cases pertaining to environmental issues. The legislate Act of Parliament defines the National Green Tribunal Act,2010  as follows “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.”  The Tribunal’s dedicated jurisdiction in environmental matters shall provide speedy environmental justice and help reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts. The Tribunal can exercise its power as per Chapter iii of the act with a view of achieving the objects of the Act. The Tribunal can decide applications and appeals made under section 14,15 and 16 of the Act. But the Tribunal has no authority to issue any notice to any one Suo motu. Also there are competent regulatory authority such as CPCB(Central Pollution Control Board) and SPCB (State Pollution Control Board) which are constituted under The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act,1974 the primary function of both these boards are to regulate the activities according to the environmental norms and also to lay down environmental standards also, the boards have the power to make application to courts for restraining apprehended violations of the environmental standards set by the competent authority. The State Pollution Control Board also have the power to give direction under Section 33A of the Water Act.

The State Pollution Control Board may, in exercise of its powers and performance of its functions under the Water Act, issue any direction in writing to person, officer or authority, and such person, officer or authority shall be bound to comply with such directions. The power to issue directions includes the power to direct the closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or proves or the stoppage or regulation of electricity, water or any other services. In M.C. Mehta V. Union of India[1], the supreme court upheld the order of closure made by the SPCB of closure of tanneries made by the board since the tanneries in Calcutta were operating in violation of the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 as well as Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. It can be ascertained that the functions of the pollution control board and NGT is almost similar as the Pollution Control Board set up the environmental standards and ensure the activities are done in accordance with the standards. On the other hand, NGT was setup with the aim to provide speedy trial to the matter relating to Environment, forests and Natural Resources. However, it is nowhere mentioned in the NGT, Act that the tribunal has the power to take Suo motu cognizance. The Act of Suo motu by NGT was challenged in the Madras High Court, which disagreed with the argument made by the tribunal i.e. the tribunal is empowered to evolve its own procedure and it can take Suo motu cognizance of an environmental issue.[2]

In the recent case of Vizag gas leak from LG Polymers Chemical Plant in Vishakhapatnam, NGT took Suo motu cognizance even after when the Andhra Pradesh High Court had already taken cognizance of the incident and the state government has constituted a committee to look into the reasons for leakage. Committees had also been constituted by the District Magistrate, Central Government and the National Human Right Commission. So the question which arises that even though when NGT is not empowered for taking Suo motu cognizance, can the tribunal Overlap with the power of the Constitutional court as in the present case Andhra Pradesh High Court has already taken the cognizance.

NGT while justifying its Suo motu cognizance submits that the Tribunal has the purpose and power to provide relief and compensation to the victims of environment damage, restitution of property, and restoration of environment. To effectuate this purpose, NGT has wide powers to devise its own procedure. In appropriate circumstances, this power includes the power to institute Suo-motu proceedings and not keep its hand tied in the face of drastic environmental damage and serious violation of right to life, public health and damage to property.[3] The argument of the tribunal is justifiable up to some extent as the very objective of the Tribunal is to provide speedy trials to the environmental matters and prevent environmental damage and provide relief to the affected population. But it is nowhere mentioned in the NGT Act,2010 under which the tribunal is formed that the tribunal is empowered to take Suo-motu cognizance also there are plethora of cases been pending at various courts where notice have been issued on NGT’S institution of Suo-motu proceedings but the final judgement is yet to come. The supreme court has also set aside the NGT order that directed the pilgrims to maintain silence while standing in front of Amarnath Ji Shivalinga. The bench observed that the matter was virtually taken Suo motu by the NGT, the bench of was of view that the Tribunal Exceeds its jurisdiction in giving the directions that it did.[4]

Results and discussion

The number of environmental judgements delivered by the NGT from its inception is on an increasing trend, indicating the growing environmental concerns in a developing country like India. Based on analysis of the judgements of NGT, so far, a total of 2051 judgements were delivered by the NGT (including zonal benches) from the inception year 2011 to the year 2016, for various cases of environmental matters across the nation. The minimum was seen in the year 2011 (28 orders) and the maximum was seen in the year 2015 (821 orders) The progress of environmental justice in India has been on increasing trend, with effective usage of NGT. While this reflects that there is a growing trust in NGT by the people, there may be enormous pressure on NGT, which needs more manpower, probably in the context that NGT aims to dispose of cases within 6 months. The effects of sensitive environmental issues that emerge from natural and man-made sources have caused the NGT to pronounce various directions for the benefit of environment protection, and for justice to victims affected by environmental damages. The way in which the issues have been handled and justice given by the NGT shows that the judiciary is there for each and every common man as his right to live in a pollution-free environment, as emphasised in Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This has stressed the importance of the doctrine of public trust, which enjoins the State to act as a trustee of the natural resources for the benefit of all human beings. From the above study, we can understand that NGT is seen as ‘Responsive to Environmental Problems’, as one of the characteristics of any successful environmental court.

Also, at the same time there is a need to acknowledge whether the NGT has the authority to take Suo motu cognizance, even though NGT claims that it has wide powers to devise its own procedure. The question which arises is whether the power is absolute and unchecked or should there be some reasonable restrictions.

References:

[1] M.C. Mehta V. Union of India 1997 2 SSC 411

[2] P. Sundararajan v. The Deputy Registrar National Green Tribunal W.P. No. 120 0F 2013

[3] https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/vizag-tragedy-ngt-says-it-has-the-power-to-take-suo-motu-cognizance-against-environment-law-defaulters-read-order-157761

[4] Amarnath ji Shrine Board V. State of Jammu Kashmir & ORS. D. No. 11601/2018

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