Everything you need to know about the National Green Tribunal (NGT)

The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010
NGT website

The NGT is a specialized forum for effective and speedy disposal of cases pertaining to environment protection and conservation of forests.

Background

Most conservationists would have heard of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), and some may have already filed applications before it. This short primer explains how, when and where to approach the NGT, and looks at the fundamental difference between courts and tribunals, and the structure and jurisdiction of the NGT.

The NGT was established on October 18, 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, passed by the Central Government. The stated objective of the Central Government was to provide a specialized forum for effective and speedy disposal of cases pertaining to environment protection, conservation of forests and for seeking compensation for damages caused to people or property due to violation of environmental laws or conditions specified while granting permissions.

Structure

Following the enactment of the said law, the Principal Bench of the NGT has been established in the National Capital – New Delhi, with regional benches in Pune (Western Zone Bench), Bhopal (Central Zone Bench), Chennai (Southern Bench) and Kolkata (Eastern Bench). Each Bench has a specified geographical jurisdiction covering several States in a region. There is also a mechanism for circuit benches. For example, the Southern Zone bench, which is based in Chennai, can decide to have sittings in other places like Bangalore or Hyderabad. Click here for a copy of the notification specifying jurisdiction of each bench. Provided below is a link to all NGT zonal benches, addresses & contact details.

The Chairperson of the NGT is a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, Head Quartered in Delhi. Other Judicial members are retired Judges of High Courts. Each bench of the NGT will comprise of at least one Judicial Member and one Expert Member. Expert members should have a professional qualification and a minimum of 15 years experience in the field of environment/forest conservation and related subjects.

Powers

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:

  1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;
  2. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977;
  3. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;
  4. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
  5. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986;
  6. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991;
  7. 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. Therefore, specific and substantial issues related to these laws cannot be raised before the NGT. You will have to approach the State High Court or the Supreme Court through a Writ Petition (PIL) or file an Original Suit before an appropriate Civil Judge of the taluk where the project that you intend to challenge is located.

Procedure for filing an Application or Appeal

The NGT follows a very simple procedure to file an application seeking compensation for environmental damage or an appeal against an order or decision of the Government. The official language of the NGT is English. Click here for the prescribed template for filing an Application/Appeal before the NGT.

For every application / appeal where no claim for compensation is involved, a fee of Rs. 1000/- is to be paid. In case where compensation is being claimed, the fee will be one percent of the amount of compensation subject to a minimum of Rs. 1000/-.

A claim for Compensation can be made for:

  1. Relief/compensation to the victims of pollution and other environmental damage including accidents involving hazardous substances;
  2. Restitution of property damaged;
  3. Restitution of the environment for such areas as determined by the NGT.

No application for grant of any compensation or relief or restitution of property or environment shall be entertained unless it is made within a period of five years from the date on which the cause for such compensation or relief first arose.

Principles of Justice adopted by NGT

The NGT is not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but shall be guided by principles of natural justice. Further, NGT is also not bound by the rules of evidence as enshrined in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Thus, it will be relatively easier (as opposed to approaching a court) for conservation groups to present facts and issues before the NGT, including pointing out technical flaws in a project, or proposing alternatives that could minimize environmental damage but which have not been considered.

While passing Orders/decisions/awards, the NGT will apply the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principles.

However, it must be noted that if the NGT holds that a claim is false, it can impose costs including lost benefits due to any interim injunction.

Review and Appeal

Under Rule 22 of the NGT Rules, there is a provision for seeking a Review of a decision or Order of the NGT. If this fails, an NGT Order can be challenged before the Supreme Court within ninety days.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the difference between a Court and a Tribunal?

The Supreme Court has answered this question by holding that “Every Court may be a tribunal but every tribunal necessarily may not be a court”. A High court for instance, where a PIL would be filed, may have wide ranging powers covering all enacted laws (including the power of contempt) but the NGT has only been vested with powers under the seven laws related to the Environment.

2. We are trying to protect a National Park/Sanctuary from various pressures including a dam proposal and widening of a highway. Should we approach the NGT?

No. As explained above, the NGT is not empowered to hear matters pertaining to issues coming under the ambit of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, which is applicable in case of National Parks, Sanctuaries and Tiger Reserves. It would be appropriate to approach either the High Court in your State or the Supreme Court. Please consult a competent lawyer for advice.

3. Can I personally argue a matter before the NGT or do I need a lawyer?

Yes. You can argue the matter yourself provided you are well acquainted with the facts and are reasonably knowledgeable about the law and procedures. The language of the NGT is English, and some guidelines related to dress apply. However, it would be best if a lawyer represents you since (s)he will be better equipped to argue and handle all procedural aspects.

4. What is the penalty for non-compliance of an NGT Order?

If a project proponent or any authority does not comply with the directions contained in an NGT order, the penalty can be imprisonment for three years or fine extending to 10 crores or both. Continued failure will attract a fine of twenty five thousand rupees per day.

5. Is there a bar on civil courts to hear /take up cases under the seven specified laws in Schedule I of the NGT Act?

Yes. With the enactment of the NGT Act, Civil courts cannot hear matters related to Environmental issues under the seven laws which the NGT is empowered to deal with.

Useful links

  1. The NGT Act
  2. NGT zonal benches, addresses & contact details
  3. The Trouble with Tribunals — Open Magazine
  4. Law of the Jungle — The Hindu.

About the author

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Praveen Bhargav is managing trustee of Wildlife First and was a member of the National Board for Wildlife (2007-10).


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