For a functional National Green Tribunal

It is critical to usher in an era of green advocacy


Manoj Kumar | June 20, 2011

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) came into existence a year ago, but did not become functional till recently due to challenges to the NGT Act, 2010.  The tribunal was set up to enable affected parties to appeal against any infringement of environmental laws and to entertain cases of civil liability pertaining to environmental laws in India. The predecessor to the NGT, the erstwhile National Environment Appellate Authority worked with less than half the strength and had to be wound up when the NGT was set up. However, even the NGT has been facing similar problems ranging from constitution of benches to setting up the required infrastructure such as building and financial support from the government. The Madras High Court had earlier stayed the rules for selection of members. The confusion created by the two- steps-forward-three-steps-back approach adopted by the government in the handling of the NGT Act added to the delay. Initially, the rules provided that victims would have to pay upfront a percentage of what they claimed as compensation as fee to the court. This was later removed. The filling up of vacancies for judicial members, expert members, registrar & secretariat for the NGT has seen inordinate delay by the government.

Finally, with the supreme court lifting the stay by the Madras High Court on rules of appointment of its members, the decks have been cleared up  to make the NGT functional expeditiously. Subsequently, the supreme court, vide its order dated May 12, 2011, has also directed the NGT to take follow-up action in the process of implementation. The apex court ordered that those who could not file petitions before the NGT because it did not become functional, may do so within a period of 60 days from May 30. Also that NGT shall give wide publicity to this directive so that aggrieved parties can file appropriate petitions etc. within 60 days from May 30. The parties are entitled to file applications for interim relief before the NGT. Noting the lack of benches as envisaged in the Act, the apex court has ordered that till the benches become functional at Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai, the aggrieved persons may file petitions before the NGT at Delhi. Once the other benches become functional, the chairperson of NGT may transfer these cases to the concerned benches. Accordingly, the NGT was made functional earlier this month, albeit with all its other problems still awaiting the government decisions.

Alongside, the government of India and the World Bank have agreed for cleaning the Ganga. The project has an estimated cost of Rs 7,000 crore. The share of the centre will be Rs 5,100 crore and that of the five state governments (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal) will be Rs 1,900 crore. The World Bank will support the government of India by providing technical assistance and finance.  The Ganga basin accounts for nearly one-fourth of the country’s landmass and the basin is home to more than 40 crore people. The Ganga faces great challenges from expanding population, urbanisation and industrial growth. A comprehensive approach is envisaged under which industrial pollution, solid waste management, riverfront management and essential sewage treatment will also be addressed. Dedicated institutional mechanisms are contemplated in order to plan, prioritise and manage these investments for the long term.

It is ironical that the government desires to deal with the monumental environmental degradation of the Ganga, but it has been dragging its feet on making the NGT robust and functional to prevent further pollution and usher in an era of green governance and green Advocacy.

The World Environment Day on 5th June, observed each year throughout the world, to focus attention on emerging environmental issues, and to induce public action saw environment minister Jairam Ramesh release the UNEP Report on Green Economy and the Forests. This year India is the global host of the UNEP World Environment Day and the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MOEF) plans to undertake a series of activities and campaigns to sensitise people about environmental issues, the health of forests and forest ecosystems and the sustainable use of forests across India.

The real challenge and focus before Ramesh, that to empower people to enforce environmental laws and to provide for a well-functioning set-up in the form of NGT, seems to be lacking in its set of priorities. Long-term survival of forests is crucial for sustainable development and a green economy. Mere good intent, say in cleaning the Ganga, and the pomp and show of celebrating world environment day as a host country is no substitute for a robust NGT.



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