The war of words between the judiciary and the government can turn murkier as the government is looking at clipping the wings of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to check its environmental activism. The environment ministry had to hurriedly notify the recommendations of the Kasturirangan panel on the Western Ghats angering the state government, which claimed that they were not consulted before making 37% of the bio-diverse rich zone as an ecologically sensitive area.
Number of activities including mining and construction of new townships has been banned in the sensitive area.
The ministry came out with the new rule fearing that the tribunal may take an adverse view as it has sought ministry’s clarification on the two expert panel reports.
A senior ministry functionary felt that the NGT was giving them a policy direction on decide on the two reports. “It is over-stepping its jurisdiction,” the functionary said, adding that the NGT Act gives powers to the tribunal to adjudicate only under the seven environmental laws listed in schedule one.
The NGT had also questioned the ministry’s prerogative on two stage process for issuing statutory environment and forest approvals. The first stage is in principle approval for initial work including preparing environment impact assessment report and the second is final approval. The tribunal had said that the two stage approval process was not in conformity with law.
Both the Apex Court and the NGT had taken the government to task for trying to prevent enforcement of environmental laws, forcing the government to look at ways to tame the activism. “We are looking at revising the NGT rules to bring in more clarity on functioning of the tribunal,” a government functionary said. The rules were framed when Jairam Ramesh was the environment minister and provides a lot of flexibility to NGT chairperson to administer the tribunal. An issue of concern for the government is that in some benches, there are more judicial members than expert members. NGT is hearing applications for removal of debris and illegal construction from Yamuna floodplains.
Some of the other Delhi-specific cases being heard by the tribunal include: construction of elevated roads and waste disposal among others.