National Green Tribunal

There is a need for more autonomy and widen of NGT’s scope for effective protection of the environment in balance with human developmental activities

The National Green Tribunal has been established on 18.10.2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for 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 and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. It is a specialized body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues. The Tribunal shall not be bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but shall be guided by principles of natural justice.

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 is mandated to make and endeavour for disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of the filing of the same. Initially, the NGT is proposed to be set up at five places of sittings and will follow circuit procedure for making itself more accessible. New Delhi is the Principal Place of Sitting of the Tribunal and Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai shall be the other four place of sitting of the Tribunal.

What is National Green Tribunal (NGT)? It is a specialised body set up under the National Green Tribunal Act (2010) for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.

With the establishment of the NGT, India became the third country in the world to set up a specialised environmental tribunal, only after Australia and New Zealand, and the first developing country to do so. NGT is mandated to make disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of the filing of the same.

The NGT has five places of sittings, New Delhi is the Principal place of sitting and Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai are the other four. Structure of NGT The Tribunal comprises of the Chairperson, the Judicial Members and Expert Members. They shall hold office for a term of five years and are not eligible for reappointment.

The Chairperson is appointed by the Central Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI). A Selection Committee shall be formed by the central government to appoint the Judicial Members and Expert Members.

There are to be at least 10 and a maximum of 20 full-time Judicial members and Expert Members in the tribunal. Powers & Jurisdiction The Tribunal has jurisdiction over all civil cases involving substantial question relating to the environment (including enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment).

Being a statutory adjudicatory body like Courts, apart from the original jurisdiction side on the filing of an application, NGT also has appellate jurisdiction to hear the appeal as a Court (Tribunal).

The Tribunal is not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 but shall be guided by principles of 'natural justice. While passing any order/decision/ award, it shall apply the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle.

NGT by an order can provide relief and compensation to the victims of pollution and other environmental damage (including accident occurring while handling any hazardous substance), for restitution of property damaged, and for restitution of the environment for such area or areas, as the Tribunal may think fit. An order/decision/award of Tribunal is executable as a decree of a civil court.

The NGT Act also provides a procedure for a penalty for non-compliance: Imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, Fine which may extend to ten crore rupees, and Both fine and imprisonment. An appeal against order/decision/ award of the NGT lies to the Supreme Court, generally within ninety days from the date of the communication.

The NGT deals with civil cases under the seven laws related to the environment, these include 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 and The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

Any violation pertaining to these laws or any decision taken by the Government under these laws can be challenged before the NGT.

Strengths of NGT Over the years NGT has emerged as a critical player in environmental regulation, passing strict orders on issues ranging from pollution to deforestation to waste management. NGT offers a path for the evolution of environmental jurisprudence by setting up an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. It helps reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts on environmental matters.

NGT is less formal, less expensive, and a faster way of resolving environment-related disputes. It plays a crucial role in curbing environment-damaging activities. The Chairperson and members are not eligible for reappointment, hence they are likely to deliver judgements independently, without succumbing to pressure from any quarter.

The NGT has been instrumental in ensuring that the Environment Impact Assessment process is strictly observed. Challenges Two important acts - Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 have been kept out of NGT’s jurisdiction.

This restricts the jurisdiction area of NGT and at times hampers its functioning as a crucial forest rights issue is linked directly to the environment. The NGT decisions are being challenged in various High Courts under Article 226 (power of High Courts to issue certain writs) with many asserting the superiority of a High Court over the NGT, claiming ‘High Court is a constitutional body while NGT is a statutory body.”

This is one of the weaknesses of the Act as there is a lack of clarity about what kind of decisions can be challenged; even though according to the NGT Act, its decision can be challenged before the Supreme Court. Decisions of NGT have also been criticised and challenged due to their repercussions on economic growth and development.

The absence of a formula based mechanism in determining the compensation has also brought criticism to the tribunal.

The decisions given by NGT are not fully complied with by the stakeholders or the government. Sometimes its decisions are pointed out not to be feasible to implement within a given timeframe. The lack of human and financial resources has led to high pendency of cases - which undermines NGT’s very objective of disposal of appeals within 6 months.

The justice delivery mechanism is also hindered by the limited number of regional benches. Important Landmark Judgements of NGT In 2012, POSCO a steelmaker company signed an MoU with the Odisha government to set up a steel project. NGT suspended order and this was considered a radical step in favour of the local communities and forests.

In the 2012 Almitra H. Patel vs. Union of India case, NGT gave the judgment of complete prohibition on open burning of waste on lands, including landfills – regarded as the single biggest landmark case dealing with the issue of solid waste management in India.

In 2013 in the Uttarakhand floods case, the Alaknanda Hydro Power Co. Ltd. was ordered to compensate to the petitioner – here, the NGT directly relied on the principle of ‘polluter pays. In 2015, the NGT ordered that all diesel vehicles over 10 years old will not be permitted to ply in Delhi-NCR.

In 2017, the Art of Living Festival on Yamuna Food Plain was declared violating the environmental norms, the NGT panel imposed a penalty of Rs. 5 Crore. The NGT, in 2017, imposed an interim ban on plastic bags of less than 50-micron thickness in Delhi because “they were causing animal deaths, clogging sewers and harming the environment”.

What is the National Green Tribunal?

The National Green Tribunal, established in 2010, as per the National Green Tribunal Act is a specialised judicial body equipped with expertise solely for the purpose of adjudicating environmental cases in the country.

Recognising that most environment cases involve multi-disciplinary issues which are better addressed in a specialised forum, the Tribunal was set up as per recommendations of the Supreme Court, Law Commission and India’s international law obligations to develop national laws on the environment and implement them effectively.

The Tribunal is tasked with providing an effective and expeditious remedy in cases relating to environmental protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources and enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment. The Tribunal’s orders are binding and it has power to grant relief in the form of compensation and damages to affected persons.

What is the Tribunal’s composition?

The Tribunal has a presence in five zones- North, Central, East, South and West. The Principal Bench is situated in the North Zone, headquartered in Delhi.

The Central zone bench is situated in Bhopal, the East zone in Kolkata, the South zone in Chennai and the West zone in Pune.

The Tribunal is headed by the Chairperson who sits in the Principal Bench and has at least ten but not more than twenty judicial members and at least ten but not more than twenty expert members.

Who may submit cases to the Tribunal and what sort of cases are heard?

Any person seeking relief and compensation for environmental damage involving subjects in the legislations mentioned in Schedule I of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 may approach the Tribunal.

The statutes in Schedule I are:

  1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;
  2. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977;
  3. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;
  4. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
  5. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986;
  6. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991;
  7. The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

The Tribunal has jurisdiction over all civil cases involving a substantial question relating to the environment and the question. Additionally, any person aggrieved by an order/direction of any of the Appellate Authorities under the legislations mentioned above can also challenge them before the National Green Tribunal.

Do I need to engage an advocate to approach the Tribunal?

No, engaging an advocate is not necessary. Aggrieved parties may approach the Tribunal in person by submitting an application in the required format.

Are decisions of the Court binding?

Yes, the decisions of the Tribunal are binding. The Tribunal’s orders are enforceable as the powers vested are the same as in a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.   

Are decisions of the Tribunal final?

The Tribunal has powers to review its own decisions. If this fails, the decision can be challenged before the Supreme Court within ninety days.

How is the Tribunal functioning in the absence of full strength of judicial and expert members?

In the absence of full strength of judicial and expert members in regional benches of the Tribunal situated in Chennai, Pune, Bhopal and Kolkata, the Principal Bench in New Delhi is hearing applications from other jurisdictions remotely by video conferencing to meet the needs of the litigants.

How can I attend hearings of the Court?

The Tribunal is an open court and its proceedings can be attended in person.

Does the Court offer internships?

Yes, please see the Internship page for requisite information.