Supreme Court reserves order on NGT’s suo moto power

The Centre had earlier argued that the NGT does not enjoy any suo moto powers but a letter or application could be entertained by it. It said that the Tribunal cannot be tied up in procedural law for exercising power which is amply available to it under the Act.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved orders on a bunch of petitions questioning the suo moto power of green watchdog National Green Tribunal (NGT). (HT PHOTO.)
The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved orders on a bunch of petitions questioning the suo moto power of green watchdog National Green Tribunal (NGT). (HT PHOTO.)
Published on Sep 08, 2021 10:33 PM IST
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ByAbraham Thomas

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved orders on a batch of petitions questioning the suo moto power of the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

While arguments were made by lawyers supporting and opposing the Tribunal’s suo moto powers in the Supreme Court over the past three days, in the last leg of submissions, senior advocates Sanjay Parikh and Gopal Shankarnaraynan told the Court that in an environmental tragedy, the tribunal cannot be expected to be powerless if no individual or group approaches it to remedy the damage to the environment.

Parikh said that the National Green Tribunal is the only tribunal in the country vested with power to protect the environment and wherever there is a public injury caused to the environment, the Tribunal has a duty under law to restitute the damage caused to the environment.

The bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar asked Parikh whether a Tribunal can be powerless to take emergency measures in a given situation if no application is brought before it. the bench said, “Suppose an activity having environmental consequence takes place, can the Tribunal take cognizance based on the occurrence of that activity or should it wait for an application to be moved before it.”

Parikh replied, “The conscience of the Tribunal is moved by the fact that damage is caused to the environment. The consequence will be that environmental conservation will then have to be remedied by the Supreme Court or High Court in exercise of their power under Article 32 and Article 226 of the Constitution.”

Even in a situation where a natural calamity occurs due to an act of God, there can be intervention by the Tribunal whether the tragedy was aggravated by the inaction or wrong action by the authorities or government. he referred to the 2014 decision of the Supreme Court in the Kedarnath cloud burst event of which the Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance.

Shankarnaraynan supplemented the arguments in favour of Tribunal’s suo moto powers by stating, “The jurisdiction exercised by the Tribunal is entirely Article 21-oriented jurisdiction.” He further stated that a situation cannot be envisaged that the Tribunal is told to wait for an application that will make the National Green Tribunal Act 2019 unworkable.

The Centre had earlier argued that the NGT does not enjoy any suo moto powers but a letter or application could be entertained by it. It said that 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 cognizance of that,” the Centre had submitted.

The Court-appointed amicus curiae (friend of Court) senior advocate Anand Grover shared the view that there is no suo moto power available under the NGT Act.

The appeals being heard by the Court relate to orders passed by NGT with regard to stone quarries in Kerala where the Tribunal acted on a letter by residents to direct that no stone quarries can be permitted within 200 metres from the nearest residential house. The quarry owners and Kerala government challenged this order pointing to the law prevailing in the state that permitted quarries to operate within 50 metres from a residential building.

Another set of appeals heard by the top court related to an order by NGT imposing a cost of five crore on the municipal body of Greater Mumbai for not setting up sewage treatment plant for solid waste management. This order was based on a newspaper report. The municipal body argued that this matter was already under consideration before the Bombay High Court.

The apex court had framed two questions - whether the Tribunal has power to take cognizance on its own of a letter or communication and whether such an action could be still taken when the matter is pending consideration before a constitutional court.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021