National Green Tribunal needn’t wait for ‘Godot’ to save environment: Supreme Court

Exercise of power by it not circumscribed by receipt of applications, says Supreme Court Bench

The Supreme Court has declared the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) position as a “unique” forum endowed with suo motu powers to take up environmental issues across the country.

The court said the NGT need not wait for the “metaphorical Godot” to knock on its portal to flex its considerable muscles to save the environment.

“The exercise of power by the NGT is not circumscribed by the receipt of applications. When substantial questions relating to the environment arise and the issue is civil in nature and those relate to the Act, the NGT, in our opinion, even in the absence of an application, can self-ignite action either towards amelioration or towards prevention of harm,” a three-judge Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Hrishikesh Roy and C.T. Ravikumar held in a judgment.

Dismisses objections

Justice Roy, who authored the 77-page judgment for the Bench, dismissed objections from the Centre, legal experts and even the court’s own amicus curiae who all argued against the NGT clothed with suo motu powers.

The court, speaking through Justice Roy, explained that the role of the NGT was not simply adjudicatory in nature. The Tribunal has to perform equally vital roles that were preventative, ameliorative or remedial in nature. “The functional capacity of the NGT was intended to leverage wide powers to do full justice in its environmental mandate,” Justice Roy observed.

The judgment described the NGT “as a complimentary, competent, specialised forum to deal with all environmental multidisciplinary issues both as original and also as an appellate authority, which complex issues were hitherto dealt with by the High Courts and the Supreme Court”.

The NGT embodied the international obligation India owed to the environment.

‘Most progressive Tribunal’

“The NGT has been recognised as one of the most progressive Tribunals in the world. This jurisprudential leap has allowed our country to enter a rather exclusive group of nations which have set up such institutions with broad powers,” Justice Roy pointed out.

The legislative history of the NGT traced its objective to address societal concerns. Hence, the legislature had given it a wide berth to craft its own procedure to entertain oral and documentary evidence. No rules shackled the good work the Tribunal was intended to perform. “Unlike the civil courts, which cannot travel beyond the relief sought by the parties, the NGT is conferred with power of moulding any relief,” the court stated.

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