26 Jul 2010
The Gazette of India has recently carried the The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 which received the assent of the President of India on June 2, 2010 to covert the bill into law. The Act provides for "the establishment of a National Green Tribunal" meant towards an "effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal rights relating to environment" wherein it is included within the scope of the Tribunal to give "relief and compensation for damages to persons and property".
The enactment of the law takes into account the (i) United Nations Conference on the Human Environment which took place at Stockholm in June, 1972 and also the (ii) United Nations Conference on Environment and Development which took place at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, in both of which India was a participant, (iii) the judicial pronouncements in India construing the right to healthy environment as a part and parcel of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, to constitute the Tribunal conferring the jurisdiction to decide on environmental issues, considering the "involvement of multi-disciplinary issues" relating to environment.
The Act [vide Section 14] provides that "the Tribunal shall have the jurisdiction over all civil cases where a substantial question relating to environment (including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment) is involved" besides the questions which arise of "out of the implementation" of the specified enactments. The power to provide for "relief and compensation to the victims of pollution and other environmental damage", "for restitution of property damaged" and "restitution of environment" is also within the purview of the Tribunal in terms of Section 15.
The importance of the enactment and the seriousness with which the Government has constituted the Tribunal can be gauged from the fact that the Act provides for imprisonment upto three years and a fine which may extend to ten crore rupees (in case of individuals whereas it can be upto twenty five crores rupees for a company) as penalty for non-compliance with the orders of the Tribunal whereas there is a separate provision for prosecution of directors of a company in such cases.
To allow flexibility of working to the Tribunal, Section 19 provides that the technicalities of the Code of Civil Procedure shall not restrain the working of the Tribunal which would rather be guided by the principles of natural justice whereas Section 22 provides that an appeal against the decision of the Tribunal would lie straight to the Supreme Court of India. The jurisdiction of civil courts is specifically excluded in matters falling within the domain of the Tribunal.
The Act, even though published, would come into effect only upon a notification to such effect being made by the Central Government. Once that is so done, the National Environment Tribunal Act of 1995 and the National Environment Appellate Authority Act of 1997 would stand repealed. Once can only hope that this is soon done and the country's environment gets a pro-active watchdog instead of requiring the environmental concerns being raised at their own spirit and cost by public spirited citizen.