National Green Tribunal (NGT)

National Green Tribunal (NGT)
National Green Tribunal (NGT)

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has emerged as a vital institution in India’s environmental governance framework. By ensuring effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to the environment, the NGT plays a crucial role in addressing environmental issues and moving towards sustainable development. This article of NEXT IAS aims to study in detail the National Green Tribunal, its meaning, establishment, objectives, composition, key judgments, significance, and other related aspects.

  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is a specialized judicial body in India established to handle cases related to environmental protection and the conservation of forests and other natural resources.
  • It has been envisaged as a dedicated forum for the effective and expeditious resolution of environmental disputes, thus reducing the burden on regular courts.

The following is a chronological order of events that led to the establishment of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in India:

  • Rio De Janeiro Summit (1992) – The genesis of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) can be traced back to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992.
    • At this summit, India committed to providing judicial and administrative remedies to victims of environmental damage.
  • Judicial Activism in Environmental Jurisprudence – The Indian judiciary, through landmark judgments in cases like Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991), established the ‘Right to a Clean Environment’ as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
    • This paved the way for the creation of a specialized environmental adjudicatory body.
  • Law Commission Recommendations – In its 186th Report in 2003, the Law Commission of India recommended the establishment of specialized environmental courts to handle the increasing number of environmental cases.
  • National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995 – This act enacted by the Government of India provided for strict liability for damages arising out of accidents involving hazardous substances.
    • However, this Act was not effectively implemented.
  • National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 – Building on the previous initiatives, the National Green Tribunal Act was finally enacted in 2010, which led to the establishment of the National Green Tribunal as a specialized judicial body for environmental matters.
  • Operationalization of the NGT – The NGT was officially operationalized in 2011, with the appointment of the Chairperson and other members.
Note: India is only the third country in the world after Australia and New Zealand to set up a dedicated body (NGT) for the redressal of environmental issues and disputes.

The major objectives of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in India can be seen as follows:

  • To provide for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
  • To enforce any legal right relating to the environment and provide relief and compensation for damages to persons and property.
  • To safeguard the basic right to have a safe environment for individuals as part of Article 21 of the Constitution. (Subhash Kumar vs State of Bihar).
  • To strengthen environmental governance and accountability in the country through its specialized and dedicated judicial mechanism.
  • To bring together legal experts and environmental scientists to deliver timely and informed decisions on a wide range of environmental issues.
  • To promote sustainable development practices and balance environmental concerns with the need for economic growth and development.
  • To raise awareness and consciousness about environmental protection among the general public and policymakers.

According to the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) comprises the following members:

  • Chairperson – heads the organization.
  • Judicial Members – at least 10, and not more than 20 Judicial Members.
    • The exact number of Judicial Members in the NGT is decided and notified by the Central Government from time to time.
  • Expert Members – at least 10, and not more than 20 Expert Members.
    • The exact number of Judicial Members in the NGT is decided and notified by the Central Government from time to time.

Note: Apart from these full-time members, the Chairperson of the Tribunal may, if considered necessary, invite any one or more persons having specialized knowledge and experience in a particular case to assist the Tribunal on a part-time basis.

  • Chairman: A judge of the Supreme Court of India or Chief Justice of a High Court is eligible to become Chairperson of the NGT.
  • Judicial Members: A judge of the Supreme Court of India, Chief Justice of a High Court, an existing judge of a High Court, or a retired judge of a High Court is eligible to be appointed as a Judicial Member of the tribunal.
  • Expert Members: A person holding a degree in technology along with an experience of 15 years in the relevant field including five years of practical experience in the field of environment and forests from a reputed National level institutions, or have worked with Central and State Governments.
  • The Chairperson is appointed by the Central Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
  • Judicial Members and Expert Members are appointed by a Selection Committee shall be formed by the Central Government for this purpose.
  • The Chairperson and the Judicial and Expert members shall hold office for a term of five years or till the age of sixty-five years, whichever is earlier.
  • The Chairperson and the Judicial and Expert members are not eligible for reappointment.

The National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 provides for a principal bench as well as regional benches of the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

  • The Principal Bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) is established in New Delhi.
  • The Principal Bench of NGT caters to the Northern Zone of the country.

There are 4 Regional Benches of the National Green Tribunal as follows:

  • Bhopal (Central Zone Bench),
  • Pune (Western Zone Bench),
  • Chennai (Southern Bench) and
  • Kolkata (Eastern Bench).
Note: The Principal and all Regional Benches of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) have a specified geographical jurisdiction covering several States in a region.

Apart from the Principal Bench and the Regional Benches, there can be Circuit Benches across different regions of India to ensure broader accessibility and effective disposal of environmental cases.

For example, the Southern Zone bench, which is based in Chennai, can decide to have sittings in other places like Bangalore or Hyderabad.

Circuit Benches of NGT

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been vested with the power to hear all civil cases relating to environmental issues and questions that are linked to the implementation of laws which are listed in Schedule I of the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 which includes the following:

  • 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.
  • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
Note: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is not empowered to hear matters relating to the:
– Wildlife Protection Act of 1972,
– Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006
– Other laws enacted by States relating to forests, tree preservation, etc.
  • Principle of Natural Justice – The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is not bound by the rigid procedural requirements of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. Instead, it is empowered to be guided by the fundamental Principle of Natural Justice. This principle ensures that the decisions of the Tribunal are fair, impartial, and based on due consideration of all relevant facts and arguments.
  • Principle of Sustainable Development – The NGT is mandated by the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 to apply the principles of sustainable development while deciding on cases. This ensures that the Tribunal’s decisions and orders are aligned with the goal of balancing environmental protection and economic development.
  • Precautionary Principle – The Tribunal is allowed to take preventive action even in the absence of full scientific certainty about the potential harm.
  • Polluter Pays Principle – The NGT applies the Polluter Pays Principle to determine the liability and responsibility of parties for environmental damage or pollution. This principle holds the polluter accountable for the adverse impacts caused by their actions or activities.
  • Flexible Rules of Evidence – The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is not mandated to strictly follow the rules of evidence as enshrined in the Indian Evidence Act of 1872. This flexibility allows the Tribunal to consider a wider range of evidence, including scientific data and expert testimonies, in its decision-making process.

The National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 provides for the provision of seeking a review of the order of the tribunal. If the aggrieved party is not satisfied, the order of the National Green Tribunal can be challenged before the Supreme Court within ninety days of its issue.

The significance of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in India are:

  • Specialized Environmental Adjudication – The NGT is the first of its kind specialized judicial body dedicated to handling environmental cases and disputes. Thus, it has led to the start of specialized environmental adjudication in India.
  • Expedited Grievance Redressal – A time-bound process for hearing and disposing of cases, as followed by the NGT, ensures timely resolution of environmental concerns.
  • Enforcing Environmental Laws – Through its powers to impose fines and hold authorities accountable, the NGT ensures the effective implementation of various environmental laws and regulations.
  • Prevention of Environmental Damage – The NGT is empowered to direct proactive measures to prevent environmental damage. This plays an important role in the protection of the environment and ecology.
  • Remedy of Environmental Damage – By ordering remedial actions to address existing environmental degradation, the NGT plays a pivotal role in environmental conservation.
  • Bridging the Gap – The NGT acts as a bridge between the judiciary, the executive, and the public in environmental governance. It provides a platform for citizens, NGOs, and other stakeholders to bring environmental issues to the forefront and seek redressal.
  • Promoting Sustainable Development – The NGT’s rulings and orders aim to balance the needs of environmental protection and economic development. It ensures that development projects comply with environmental regulations and minimize their impact on the ecosystem.

The key issues faced by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) are:

  • Ambiguity in the term ‘Substantial Question’- The ambiguity in the interpretation of “substantial question” related to the environment is a valid concern. The NGT should strive to provide clear guidelines and establish precedents to ensure consistent and objective interpretation of this term.
  • Exclusion of key Environmental Acts – The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 have been kept out of the NGT’s jurisdiction. This restriction limits the scope of the NGT’s authority and its ability to address crucial environmental issues that are directly linked to forest rights and wildlife protection.
  • Differential and limited time frames – The varying time frames prescribed for approaching the NGT, such as 30 days, 6 months, and 5 years, are indeed arbitrary and can be problematic. The Act should consider a more unified and flexible approach to timelines, acknowledging the continuous and long-term nature of environmental impacts.
  • Inclusion of the scientific community – The lack of a transparent and rigorous process for selecting technical experts on the NGT is a significant shortcoming. The inclusion of the scientific community should be ensured through a well-defined and participatory selection process, ensuring their expertise and independence.
  • Fine for false or vexatious claims – The provision of imposing costs on false or vexatious claims can indeed act as a deterrent for the affected people in approaching the NGT. This should be carefully implemented to avoid discouraging legitimate environmental grievances and concerns.
  • Judicial overreach – The concern regarding the NGT’s entry into the legislative domain, such as banning sand mining in Goa. The NGT’s role should be to interpret and enforce environmental laws effectively, without encroaching on the legislative functions.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) stands as a crucial institution in India’s quest for sustainable development and environmental justice. By addressing complex environmental issues with a blend of judicial and scientific expertise, the NGT has made significant strides in environmental protection. However, continuous efforts to overcome its challenges and enhance its effectiveness are essential for the tribunal to fulfil its mandate and contribute to a greener and healthier India.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has delivered several significant judgments that have had a substantial impact on environmental governance in India. Here are some landmark judgments of NGT:

  • Complete Prohibition on Open Burning of Waste (2012) – This judgment by the NGT addressed a critical issue – waste management. It mandated a complete ban on open burning of waste, including landfills.
    • This judgment has contributed significantly towards improved air quality and waste management practices across the country.
  • Save Mon Federation Vs Union of India (2013) – This case showcased the NGT’s commitment to biodiversity conservation. The Tribunal suspended a large hydro project in Arunachal Pradesh to protect the habitat of a critically endangered bird species – Black-Necked Crane.
  • Coal Mining in Meghalaya (2014) – The NGT imposed a ban on rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya State, citing environmental degradation and safety concerns.
  • Art of Living Case (2016) – The NGT imposed a fine of Rs. 5 crore on the Foundation for causing environmental damage to the Yamuna floodplains and mandated restoration measures.
  • Ganga Pollution Case (2017) – The NGT directed the implementation of a comprehensive action plan for cleaning the Ganga River, including a ban on the disposal of waste and effluents and the establishment of sewage treatment plants.
  • Ban on Firecrackers During Diwali (2020) – The NGT imposed a temporary ban on the sale and use of firecrackers in Delhi and other polluted cities during Diwali celebrations. This reduced air pollution levels during the festival.
  • Ban on Diesel Vehicles – The NGT has imposed bans on the registration of new diesel vehicles and the plying of old diesel vehicles in the National Capital Region (NCR) to curb air pollution.
  • Regulation of Groundwater Extraction – The NGT has issued directives to regulate groundwater extraction and recharge measures to address the depletion of groundwater levels.
  • Protection of Wetlands – The NGT has taken measures to protect wetlands across the country, including the Okhla Bird Sanctuary (Noida), Deepor Beel (Assam), and Chilika Lake (Odisha), by preventing encroachment and illegal activities.
  • Remediation of Polluted Sites – The NGT has ordered the remediation and restoration of polluted sites, such as the Bellandur Lake (Bengaluru) and the Yamuna riverbed in Delhi.

What is the role of National Green Tribunal?

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is a specialized judicial body in India responsible for expeditiously resolving environmental disputes and enforcing environmental laws. It ensures compliance with regulations, protects environmental rights, awards compensation for damages, and mandates restoration and preventive measures. The NGT promotes sustainable development by balancing environmental protection with developmental needs and raises public awareness about environmental issues through its decisions.

Is NGT a statutory body?

Yes, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is a statutory body.


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