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Apex Court upholds suo motu power for the National Green Tribunal-October 11, 2021.

Submitted by- Nashrah Fatma

The Supreme Court has declared National Green Tribunal (NGT) as a "unique" forum having suo motu powers to resolve environmental issues across the country.

NGT is a specialised body set up under the National Green Tribunal Act (2010) for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources. The NGT Act provided a specialized role to the tribunal to act on issues where a dispute arose under seven specified laws (mentioned in Schedule I of the Act): The Forest Conservation Act, Air Act, Environment Protection Act, The Water Act, The Water Cess Act, Public Liability Insurance Act and the Biological Diversity Act.

A three-judge Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Hrishikesh Roy and C.T. Ravikumar held in a judgment that The NGT's ability to exercise power is not limited by the receipt of applications and whenever significant environmental concerns develop, and the matter is civil in character and relates to the Act, the NGT can self-ignite action either toward amelioration or prevention of harm, even in the absence of an application.

The three judge bench pointed out that the SC had ruled that the “right to a healthy environment” is part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and recognised that NGT is

set up under the Constitutional mandate to enforce Article 21 with respect to the environment.

The court rejected the contention that the NGT being a statutory body cannot act on its own initiative, exercise judicial review power, or act suo motu in carrying out its tasks. The bench pointed out that the Tribunal is the institutionalisation of the developments made by the court in environment law and said “these progressive steps have allowed it to inherit a very broad conception of environmental concerns”. The SC added that “Not merely should a procedure exist but it must be meaningfully effective to address such concerns. The role of such an institution cannot be mechanical or ornamental”. More autonomy is required, as well as a widening of the NGT's scope, in order to effectively safeguard the environment while balancing human developmental activities.


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