Thursday, May 6, 2010


The National Green Tribunal Act 2009 
[A] Introduction
The National Green Tribunal Act is a landmark legislation that for the first time in the nation’s history sets up an empowered Tribunal to decide all manner of environmental cases. It is one of only five such specialised courts in the world and represents a paradigm shift in the manner in which cases of environmental damage are dealt with.
[B] Background
  • Following the Bhopal gas tragedy and the shameful compensation dispensed to its victims, it became painfully obvious that India lacked the legislative, regulatory and Infrastructural capability to deal with environmental disasters of that magnitude.
  • For almost two decades, the Supreme Court of India made repeated observations emphasizing the need for the establishment of such special environmental courts. These sentiments were once again echoed by the Law Commission in its 186th Report in 2003 which lamented this fact and stressed the urgent need for such special courts to try offences of an environmental nature.
  • One of the primary goals that the Minister E&F set for the Ministry’s agenda in 2009-2010 was the drafting and enactment of such a Bill that would set up a Tribunal with a broad jurisdiction, staffed by both judges and scientific and technical environmental experts. The other key feature would be the Tribunal’s authority to grant unliquidated compensation (i.e. compensation unfettered by a limit or cap) in cases of environmental damage, whether by individuals or large corporations.
  • The Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha, following which it was referred to the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests. The Standing Committee after due deliberation recommended twelve amendments out of which ten were adopted. Thereafter the Bill was debated in the Lok Sabha. Almost all members welcomed the need for such a Bill. There was debate on the manner of implementation (with many expressing concern that five Benches would be too less) but all in all, the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on 30th April 2010. Thereafter the Rajya Sabha passed the Bill on 5th May 2010.

[C] Key Features
  • Primary Jurisdiction: The Bill has overarching jurisdiction over all environmental and forest related matters. All manner of environmental litigation will now be argued before and decided by the National Green Tribunal which will have its principal seat at Bhopal. This will prevent multiplicity of suits and forum shopping by aggrieved parties.
  • Expert Adjudication: Given the complex and sophisticated nature of most environmental issues an equal number of technical/expert members will be present on the bench. Decisions will be taken in an informed manner taking into consideration all aspects- social, environmental and economical. Generalised decision making as is the norm currently will cease. Furthermore the Tribunal will be chaired by a judge who has previously held the post of the Chief Justice of a High Court or of a Supreme Court justice.
  • Compensation: The NGT Bill envisages some of the highest financial penalties against polluters. Not only is there no cap on the award but companies can be penalised with the levy of a Rs. 25 crore fine for failure to comply with the Tribunal’s orders.
  • Speedy Disposal: The Tribunal unlike existing courts is only going to hear cases relating to the environment and forests. Furthermore, the only appeal against the Tribunal’s decision/award will be to the Supreme Court. This provision has eliminated 3 layers of redundant adjudication that formerly existed, before an order could be considered final and binding. In addition to this the Bill requires that the Courts will endeavour to dispose of all cases within 6 months.

1 comment:

What's in a name? said...

This bill is a complete affront to the principles of justice
It seeks to create a way to decriminalize environmental crime in India.
The bill has been heavily lobbied for by the US Government
We need criminal laws to put people who break environment laws behind bars
This 'civil' tribunal is an eyewash. We need criminal laws to deal with such crimes.