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National Green Tribunal (NGT) and its functioning

GS2/GS3 Paper 

 Syllabus: Governance/ Statutory and non-statutory bodies

 

Source: TOI

 Context: The Supreme Court has criticized the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for frequently issuing ex parte orders without hearing affected parties and imposing substantial damages amounting to crores of rupees.

 

What are Ex-Parte orders?

They are those that can be granted without waiting for a response from other sides. Issues with ex parte orders include lack of fairness, potential for incorrect decisions due to one-sided information, and undermining procedural integrity.

 

Recommendation of SC:

  1. Review of orders: The Supreme Court set aside one such ex parte order and instructed NGT to reevaluate such cases by issuing notices to all relevant parties, hearing their arguments, and then making appropriate decisions.
  2. Maintain procedural integrity and balanced decision-making in environmental safeguarding
  3. There is a need for NGT to ensure fair hearings and due process to maintain its credibility as a guardian of environmental protection.
  4. Imposition of huge sums for damages proved to be counterproductive in safeguarding the environment.

 

Background of NGT

Taking into account the increasing number of environmental cases across the country the Government of India enacted the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act in 2010 for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources.

  

Objectives of the National Green Tribunal:

  • To provide 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 the environment.
    • Giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and other related matters.

 

Powers of the National Green Tribunal:

  • Adjudication: The NGT has the authority to hear and decide cases related to environmental protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources, and enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment.
  • Civil and Criminal Jurisdiction: It possesses both civil and criminal jurisdiction, allowing it to hear cases related to environmental violations and offences.
  • Applicability of Laws: NGT has jurisdiction over all civil cases under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act 1977, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, and the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, Forest Conservation Act 1980, Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, and Biological Diversity Act 2002.
  • Penalties for Non-compliance: The NGT Act outlines penalties, including imprisonment up to three years, fines up to ten crore rupees, or both, based on the violation’s nature and seriousness.
  • Suo Motu Powers: The NGT has “unique” forum status, granting it the authority to take up environmental issues nationwide without awaiting specific case filings.
  • Review of Government Decisions: The NGT can review and challenge decisions, acts, or omissions of the government or any public authority that have caused environmental harm.
  • Adherence to Principles of Natural Justice: Although the NGT is not constrained by the procedural rules of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908, it follows the principles of natural justice, ensuring fairness and due process in its proceedings and rulings.
  • Composition: Headed by a Chairperson who sits in the Principal Bench, and at least 10 but not more than 20 judicial members, and at least 10 but not more than 20 expert members. They shall hold office for a term of 5 yearsand are not eligible for reappointment.

 

Performance of the National Green Tribunal: 

  1. Strengthening Enforcement of Forest Laws: The NGT has been a staunch advocate for strict enforcement of forest laws, particularly the Forest (Conservation) Act, of 1980.
    1. Example: In 2018, the NGT ordered the closure of 248 illegal mining operations in the Western Ghats, highlighting the Tribunal’s commitment to enforcing environmental regulations.
    2. Example: In 2015, the NGT cancelled the diversion of over 20,000 hectares of forest land in Chhattisgarh for a mining project, citing irregularities in the clearance process and the potential harm to wildlife habitat.
  2. Promoting Sustainable Forest Management: The Tribunal has advocated for afforestation programs, conservation of biodiversity, and ecological restoration of degraded forest areas.
    1. Example: The NGT has directed the Forest Department of Uttarakhand to implement a comprehensive afforestation program, aiming to restore 100,000 hectares of degraded forest land.
  3. Protecting Wildlife Habitats: The NGT has recognized the importance of protecting wildlife habitats to safeguard endangered species and maintain ecological balance.
    1. Example: In 2019, the NGT directed the Karnataka government to relocate a proposed highway project to avoid disrupting a critical wildlife corridor in the Western Ghats.
  4. Enhancing Public Participation: The Tribunal has encouraged individuals and communities to voice their concerns and participate in environmental impact assessments. This has increased transparency and accountability in forest management practices.
    1. Example: In 2020, the NGT held a public hearing to gather feedback from local communities on a proposed hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh.
  5. Promoting Environmental Justice: The NGT has addressed issues of environmental injustice, ensuring that forest conservation efforts do not disproportionately impact marginalized
    1. Example: The 2021 NGT order on the rights of Banni pastoralists in the pristine Banni grasslands.
  6. Speedy Disposal: In several instances, it has succeeded in delivering relatively quick judgments, ensuring that environmental concerns are addressed promptly.
    1. g. from July 2018 to July 2023, the NGT received 15,132 new cases and disposed of 16,042 cases
  7. Public Interest Litigation: The NGT allows for public interest litigation (PIL), enabling concerned citizens and environmental activists to raise crucial issues related to the environment.

 

Challenges before the National Green Tribunal:

  • Staffing and Infrastructure Issues: The NGT has faced challenges related to staffing and infrastructure. Resignations by key members due to inadequate facilities prompted Supreme Court intervention in 2012, urging the Ministry of Environment to provide essential resources.
  • Inadequate Member Appointments: Despite the NGT Act mandating a minimum of ten judicial and ten expert members, it has consistently operated with fewer members.
  • Zonal Benches Shutdown: Due to the shortage of members, all four zonal benches have been non-operational for over a year. Video-conference hearings have become the norm, causing inconvenience and financial burden for lawyers and clients alike.
  • Delays and Cancellations: Video conference hearings often face delays and last-minute cancellations, leading to inefficiencies.
  • Lack of Diverse Expertise: The NGT lacks a diverse pool of expert members to address complex environmental issues comprehensively.
    • g. majority from forest and administrative services.
  • Appeals and Enforcement Challenges: NGT decisions face Supreme Court challenges with hefty penalties. Weak enforcement of orders, including Ganga and Delhi pollution cases.

 

Way forward:

  • Jurisdiction Reforms: The quintessential legislations, the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006, have been kept out of NGT’s jurisdiction. These laws need to be brought under the NGT
  • Institutional capacity: To effectively handle the growing volume of environmental cases, the NGT’s benches should be expanded to include additional judges and newer locations, and provide needed staff and infrastructure.
  • Data-driven decision-making: Embracing data analytics and GIS-based tools can provide valuable insights for informed forest management decisions.
  • Community engagement initiatives: Engaging communities in forest conservation activities, such as tree planting campaigns, biodiversity surveys, and environmental education programs, can strengthen local ownership and participation in forest management.
  • Alignment with Global Conservation Goals: The NGT’s influence should align national forest conservation policies with global goals such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Sustainable Development Goals, fostering international collaboration.
  • NGT must put internal checks and balances for efficient and transparent delivery of justice.

 

Conclusion:

As we navigate the complex challenges of environmental preservation, a strengthened and empowered NGT is essential. By implementing the suggested measures, India can ensure that the NGT continues to play a pivotal role in safeguarding its rich biodiversity and promoting sustainable forest management practices, fulfilling the goals under the Indian Forest Act of 1927, SDGs (Goal 13, 14, 15, 16), and directive principles (Art 48A).

 

Insta Links

 NGT is not a case of extra delegation of powers: SC:

  

Prelims Links:

How is the National Green Tribunal (NGT) different from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)? (UPSC 2018)

  1. The NGT has been established by an Act whereas the CPCB has been created by an executive order of the Government.
  2. The NGT provides environmental justice and helps reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts whereas the CPCB promotes cleanliness of streams and wells, and aims to improve the quality of air in the country.

 

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

 

Answer: B