A shot in the arm for NGT and citizens
On October 8, the Supreme Court (SC) said the National Green Tribunal (NGT) does have suo moto powers and can take up environmental issues on its own. Explaining the rationale behind the order, the SC said that given the fallout of the climate crisis, “where adverse environmental impact may be egregious, but the community affected is unable to effectively get the machinery into action, a forum created specifically to address such concerns should surely be expected to move with expediency, and of its own accord.” The court was considering a batch of appeals on whether NGT has the power to take notice of press reports or even seek a response from the State on preventing environmental damage without any application being filed before it.
This is a shot in the arm for NGT and citizens. But many believe that NGT is not performing to its full potential due to several reasons: First, the lack of adequate administrative support from the Centre to NGT; second, delays in appointment of experts; and, third, the over-dependence of NGT on regulatory bodies to implement its orders when it lacks a mechanism to track compliance. Writing on NGT, senior environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta flagged another problem: There has been a steady decline in the quality of decisions from NGT, and most cases are dismissed on hyper-technical grounds or NGT’s refusal to adjudicate on the merits of the case.
It is unfortunate that a body as important as NGT, which is responsible for many landmark decisions and pushing concepts such as cumulative impact assessment into the policymaking process, is facing such hurdles. The SC order on NGT is welcome, but much more needs to be done to ensure that the tribunal becomes more than just a paper tiger.