NGT’s callous dismissal of petitions, recourse to technicalities, is a betrayal of its mandate

In 2010, India turned the third nation after Australia and New Zealand to have a quasi-judicial physique, the Nationwide Inexperienced Tribunal (NGT), for coping with environmental instances. The company was mandated to “expeditiously dispose of instances pertaining to environmental safety”. Going by the figures on its web site — greater than 90 per cent of the instances have been taken care of — the inexperienced courtroom appears to have fulfilled its mandate. However the company has been referred to as out for failing its major perform of securing the “proper to wholesome setting as a half of the Proper to Life beneath Article 21”. Previously three years, significantly, the company has been faulted for giving quick shrift to due process. Now, an investigation by this newspaper has revealed that final yr, the NGT invoked the deadline-related technical clause to dismiss 11 petitions, although no less than 5 of them have been filed properly throughout the outer time restrict.

The NGT changed the Nationwide Environmental Appellate Authority, which, as a Delhi Excessive Courtroom verdict of 2009 identified, lacked “experience… and independence for redressing public grievances”. To handle this deficiency, the NGT Act stipulated that the brand new organisation have no less than 10 officers with a background within the judiciary and the identical quantity with experience in environmental issues. The tribunal has, nevertheless, by no means functioned with a full home. Presently, it has three judicial and three skilled members. With the size and nature of contentious environmental points increasing significantly prior to now decade — from vehicular air pollution and stubble burning to municipal waste and the dangers posed by giant dams or mining to the challenges offered by e-waste or nuclear waste — the dearth of experience has mirrored on the inexperienced courtroom’s functioning. NGT choices have been challenged and overruled within the Supreme Courtroom. In 2019, whereas setting apart the go-ahead to the Subansiri Hydropower venture in Arunachal Pradesh, the apex courtroom questioned the tribunal’s experience. A yr earlier, the SC used even stronger phrases within the Mopa airport case: “The NGT handled the submissions which have been urged earlier than it in primarily one paragraph… In failing to perform a merits-based evaluate, the NGT has not discharged an adjudicatory perform”.

Of the 11 petitions rejected by the inexperienced tribunal final yr, one was filed simply a day after the deadline and two inside 60 days of the outer restrict. In a single of its earliest orders — Paryavaran Sanrakshan Samiti Lipa v Union of India, 2011 — the NGT had talked about “not being pedantic” within the utility of the deadline rule. It invoked the precept of “substantial justice” on “environmental points”. That, lower than 10 years later, the identical tribunal takes recourse to phrases like “torpid” and “careless” to dismiss petitions — largely by individuals from rural areas who reportedly needed extra time to get the paperwork finished — is a testimony to how a lot it has strayed from its authentic imaginative and prescient.

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