National Green tribunal does not have suo motu powers: Centre to Supreme Court
The submission was made by additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati during a hearing of a bunch of appeals, seeking the court’s decision on whether the tribunal has the power to directly take up issues on the basis on news reports or at the instance of any letter or communication.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) does not possess suo motu powers but it can act on letters or communication addressed to it raising environmental concerns, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Thursday.
The submission was made by additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) during a hearing of a bunch of appeals, seeking the court’s decision on whether the tribunal has the power to directly take up issues on the basis on news reports or at the instance of any letter or communication.
“The NGT does not enjoy any suo motu powers. But this cannot be stretched to the extent to suggest that a letter or application cannot be entertained by it. The tribunal cannot be tied up in procedural law for exercising power which is amply available to it under the Act. Once the tribunal receives any communication, it is duty bound to take cognisance of that,” ASG Bhati said, conveying the government’s point of view.
A bench of justices AM Khanwilkar, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar responded that the ASG’s submission is “crucial” to the case since MoEFCC was the ministry which piloted the bill constituting the NGT through Parliament.
Bhati said that the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, was enacted with the purpose of protecting the environment, and the only objection of the Centre was with regard to vesting suo motu powers to the tribunal and its members through which they can initiate action on their own.
The bench said that the problem arises by using the generic term “suo motu”. “Even we are not using the term suo motu. But when a communication in the form of a letter or a sworn affidavit is received, should the Tribunal ignore it or will it be duty-bound to consider it?” The court agreed that procedural law requires the tribunal to act on an application or appeal filed before it. However, the judges wondered if this formal step could be substituted by converting a letter or a news report into an application and taking the process forward by issuance of notices to the authors of the new report and to the alleged defaulters or authorities concerned.
The court-appointed amicus curiae (friend of Court), senior advocate Anand Grover, supported Centre’s view. Grover said: “What is meant by suo motu is that the Tribunal or its members cannot initiate action or trigger the process on basis of reading a newspaper report.”