NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL (NGT)
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Context: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has taken suo moto cognisance of newspaper reports detailing the rising air pollution in Delhi and Punjab.
NGT noted the following points
Stubble Burning in Punjab
●The NGT acknowledged that stubble burning in Punjab during the autumn season is a significant contributor to air pollution in northern regions, particularly in the national capital, Delhi. The report mentioned that Punjab had witnessed 656 farm fire incidents, which was a 63% increase compared to the previous year.
Directive to Authorities
●The NGT directed the concerned authorities to take action against violators of environmental norms, including imposing penalties. The Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) was instructed to prepare and submit an area-wise Crop Residue Management Plan to reduce stubble burning events.
●Authorities were also asked to provide an action-taken report for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas.
Deteriorating Air Quality in Delhi
●The NGT expressed concern over the rising air pollution in Delhi. It issued notices to various authorities, including the Delhi government, State and Central pollution control boards, civic bodies, and the Ministry of Forest and Climate Change, seeking their responses on the actions taken to control air pollution from various sources in the national capital.
National Green Tribunal (NGT)
- It is a specialized body that was formed under the NGT Act, 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases that are related to the protection and conservation of the environment, forests, and other natural resources.
- It is a quasi-judicial body that has the power to hear both civil and criminal matters related to environmental issues.
- The NGT Act, 2010 was enacted by the Parliament of India to give effect to these recommendations and to comply with the constitutional mandate of Article 21 (right to life), Article 48-A (protection and improvement of environment), and Article 51-A (g) (fundamental duty to protect the environment).
- The NGT Act also aimed to implement the principles of sustainable development, precautionary principle, and polluter pays principle.
- The NGT has its principal bench in New Delhi and four zonal benches in Bhopal, Chennai, Kolkata, and Pune. The NGT also has circuit benches that visit different states.
Features of NGT
- The NGT has jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases involving substantial questions relating to the environment. A substantial question affects the community at large or relates to a specific activity that has a significant impact on the environment.
- The NGT can hear cases arising from the implementation of various environmental laws such as the Water Act, 1974, the Air Act 1981, the Environment Protection Act, 1986, the Forest Conservation Act 1980, the Biodiversity Act 2002, etc.
- The NGT can also hear cases relating to any matter covered under international conventions and agreements on the environment to which India is a party.
- The NGT has original jurisdiction over cases filed by any person or authority or by the Central or State Government. It also has appellate jurisdiction over appeals filed against any order or decision made by any authority under any environmental law.
- The NGT follows the principles of natural justice and is not bound by the procedure laid down in the Code of Civil Procedure or the Code of Criminal Procedure. It can devise its own procedure for the speedy disposal of cases.
- The NGT consists of both judicial and expert members who have expertise in environmental law or science. The chairperson of the NGT is a retired judge of the Supreme Court or a Chief Justice of a High Court.
- The judicial members are retired judges of High Courts or District Courts. The expert members are persons who have qualifications and experience in environmental science, engineering, management, or planning.
- The NGT can grant relief and compensation to the victims of environmental damage and can also impose penalties for non-compliance with its orders. The NGT can also order restitution of property or environment or restoration of ecological balance.
- The NGT can issue any directions or orders that it deems necessary for securing environmental justice. It can also review its own decisions or orders.
- The decisions or orders of the NGT are binding on all parties and authorities. Any person aggrieved by an order or decision of the NGT can appeal to the Supreme Court within 90 days.
Significance of NGT
- It provides a specialized forum for adjudication of environmental disputes with expert knowledge and technical assistance.
- It provides access to justice for all sections of society, especially the poor and marginalized who are most affected by environmental degradation.
- It provides speedy and effective redressal of environmental grievances with less cost and formalities.
- It promotes public awareness and participation in environmental matters and encourages compliance with environmental laws and norms.
- It contributes to the development and implementation of sound environmental policies and practices based on scientific evidence and public interest.
NGT faces several challenges that hamper its performance and impact
- It faces a huge backlog of cases due to the increasing number of petitions filed by various parties and the limited number of benches and members available to hear them.
- It faces a shortage of expert members who have the requisite qualifications and experience in environmental science or related fields. As of August 2023, there were only 10 expert members out of the sanctioned strength of 20.
- It faces a lack of compliance and enforcement of its orders and directions by the concerned parties and authorities. There are many instances where the NGT orders have been ignored, violated, or challenged by the respondents or other stakeholders.
- It faces a lack of awareness and understanding among the public and other stakeholders about its role and functions. Many people are unaware of the existence or jurisdiction of the NGT or how to approach it for seeking environmental justice.
- It faces a lack of coordination and cooperation among various authorities and agencies involved in environmental governance. There are often conflicts or overlaps between the NGT and other bodies such as the High Courts, the Supreme Court, or other statutory bodies on environmental matters.
Way forward to enhance the effectiveness and impact of the NGT
- The government should increase the number of benches and members of the NGT to cope with the rising caseload and to ensure the timely disposal of cases.
- Ensure that the expert members of the NGT have adequate qualifications and experience in environmental science or related fields and that they are appointed through a transparent and merit-based process.
- Ensure that the orders and directions of the NGT are complied with and enforced by all parties and authorities in letter and spirit. The government should also provide adequate legal support and protection to the NGT members and staff from any harassment or intimidation by any party.
- Launch a massive awareness campaign to educate the public and other stakeholders about the role and functions of the NGT and how to access it to seek environmental justice. The government should also encourage public participation and consultation in environmental matters before the NGT.
- Foster better coordination and cooperation among various authorities and agencies involved in environmental governance. The government should also harmonize and streamline the environmental laws and regulations to avoid any conflicts or overlaps with the NGT.
- The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is a vital institution for ensuring environmental justice in India. It has made significant contributions to the protection and conservation of the environment, forests, and other natural resources. However, it also faces several challenges that need to be addressed urgently. By taking appropriate measures, the government can strengthen the functioning and effectiveness of the NGT and make it a more credible and responsive body for securing environmental justice for all.
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National Green Tribunal: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/national-green-tribunal-8
Air Pollution India: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/air-pollution-india
Q. What is the role and significance of the National Green Tribunal in India's environmental governance, and how has it contributed to addressing environmental challenges and ensuring sustainable development in the country?