National Green Tribunal: Scientists’ Number on Bench Reduced To Just 2

The National Green Tribunal which once had a battery of 20 scientists and forest officials working as an advisory group to the judges of NGT, Now only two scientists and foresters are doing all the work. Time to prepare for some idiosyncratic judgements?

After putting the bill for groundwater extraction on standstill, the National green tribunal has come under fire. The bench, which has found mention in UN report on Environmental law, that consisted of a battery of 20 scientists and forest officials working as advisory group to the judges of NGT, only two scientists and foresters were doing all the work.

The move can effectively dilute the efficacy of the bench which was established in 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. The NGT which usually has a mandate to dispose of applications and petitions within a period of six months may see delays in the future or worse.

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NGT- A Primer

India is the third country in the world – after Australia and New Zealand – to set up such a body to deal with environmental cases.

The principal bench of the NGT is located in Delhi, with other benches sitting in Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai. Justice Justice Jawad Rahim is serving as the Chairman of the Tribunal since December 2017.

The NGT  has the power to hear all civil cases relating to environmental issues and questions that are linked to the implementation of laws listed in Schedule I of the NGT Act. These include the following:

  • 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;
  • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

This means that any violations pertaining only to these laws, or any order/decision taken by the Government under these laws can be challenged before the NGT. Importantly, the NGT has not been vested with powers to hear any matter relating to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and various laws enacted by States relating to forests, tree preservation etc.

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In the pictures Dr. SS Garbayal(L) and Dr. Nagin Nanda(R)

Members

According to the NGT, the tribunal has only Dr. SS Garbayal and Dr. Nagin Nanda as the expert members on the bench. The NGT has handled many high-profile cases like the Sterlite copper plant in Tuticorin or Tata Institute of Fundamental Research for the construction of the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO). Both of which had attained a clearance from the tribunal. The higher courts in these have put a stay on both the verdicts. However, the water extraction bill for the NCR areas did run into trouble with the bench recently. In recent weeks, the bench, in an effort to find resolutions that are ‘workable’ or pragmatic, has frequently come under fire for ignoring its principal aim according to some, which is to put the environment first.

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