The NGT was established on October 18, 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010.On 18 October 2010, Justice Lokeshwar Singh Panta became its first Chairman.
During the Rio de Janeiro summit of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in June 1992, India vowed the participating states to provide judicial and administrative remedies for the victims of the pollutants and other environmental damage.
There lie many reasons behind the setting up of this tribunal. After India’s move with Carbon credits, such tribunal may play a vital role in ensuring the control of emissions and maintaining the desired levels. This is the first body of its kind that is required by its parent statute to apply the “polluter pays” principle and the principle of sustainable development.
This court can rightly be called ‘special’ because India became the third country following Australia and New Zealand to have such a system
The stated purpose behind establishment was to provide a specialized forum for effective and speedy disposal of cases pertaining to environment protection, conservation of forests and for seeking compensation for damages caused to people or property due to violation of environmental laws or conditions specified while granting permissions.
STRUCTURE OF NGT
The Principal Bench of the NGT has been established in the National Capital – New Delhi, with regional benches in Pune (Western Zone Bench), Bhopal (Central Zone Bench), Chennai (Southern Bench) and Kolkata (Eastern Bench).
Each Bench has a specified geographical jurisdiction covering several States in a region. There is also a mechanism for circuit benches. For example, the Southern Zone bench, which is based in Chennai, can decide to have sittings in other places like Bangalore or Hyderabad.
The tribunal shall consist of a full time chairperson, judicial members and expert members. The minimum number of judicial and expert member prescribed is ten in each category and maximum number is twenty in each category. The chairperson, if find necessary, may invite any person or more person having specialized knowledge and experience in a particular case before the tribunal to assist the same in that case.
The Chairperson of the NGT is a retired Judge of the Supreme Court . Other Judicial members are retired Judges of High Courts. Each bench of the NGT will comprise of at least one Judicial Member and one Expert Member. Expert members should have a professional qualification and a minimum of 15 years experience in the field of environment/forest conservation and related subjects.
POWERS OF NGT
The NGT has the power to hear all civil cases relating to environmental issues and questions that are linked to the implementation of laws listed in Schedule I of the NGT Act. These include 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.
This means that any violations pertaining only to these laws, or any order / decision taken by the Government under these laws can be challenged before the NGT. Importantly, the NGT has not been vested with powers to hear any matter relating to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and various laws enacted by States relating to forests, tree preservation etc. Therefore, specific and substantial issues related to these laws cannot be raised before the NGT.
PROCEDURE FOR AN APPLICATION
The NGT follows a very simple procedure to file an application seeking compensation for environmental damage or an appeal against an order or decision of the Government. The official language of the NGT is English.
A claim for Compensation can be made for:
1 . Relief/compensation to the victims of pollution and other environmental damage including accidents involving hazardous substances;
2 . Restitution of property damaged;
3 . Restitution of the environment for such areas as determined by the NGT.
No application for grant of any compensation or relief or restitution of property or environment shall be entertained unless it is made within a period of five years from the date on which the cause for such compensation or relief first arose.
PROCEDURE FOLLOWED DURING HEARING OF CASES
The NGT is not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but shall be guided by principles of natural justice. Further, NGT is also not bound by the rules of evidence as enshrined in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Thus, it will be relatively easier (as opposed to approaching a court) for conservation groups to present facts and issues before the NGT, including pointing out technical flaws in a project, or proposing alternatives that could minimize environmental damage but which have not been considered.
While passing Orders/decisions/awards, the NGT will apply the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principles.
However, it must be noted that if the NGT holds that a claim is false, it can impose costs including lost benefits due to any interim injunction.
Under Rule 22 of the NGT Rules, there is a provision for seeking a Review of a decision or Order of the NGT. If this fails, an NGT Order can be challenged before the Supreme Court within ninety days.
BAR ON CIVIL COURTS
With the enactment of the NGT Act, Civil courts cannot hear matters related to Environmental issues under the seven laws which the NGT is empowered to deal with.
NON – COMPLIANCE OF AN NGT ORDER
If a project proponent or any authority does not comply with the directions contained in an NGT order, the penalty can be imprisonment for three years or fine extending to 10 crores or both. Continued failure will attract a fine of twenty five thousand rupees per day.