The government has taken on the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in a direct confrontation before the Supreme Court. It has told the court that the tribunal does not have the powers to act suo motu in environmental cases and has been doing so beyond its remit.
The confrontation between the two is expected to conflate, with the NGT having intervened as a party in an ongoing case on the matter before the court. The Environment Ministry has been facing a rough time in the court, with the latter pushing the government to attend to the infrastructural needs of the tribunal in order to get it fully functional.
On August 28, the Supreme Court said, “The [Environment and Forests] department is taking all-out efforts to ensure that the NGT does not function effectively so that the court may be compelled to pass an order for restoration of jurisdiction of the High Courts and other courts in matters which are presently dealt with by the NGT.”
The Ministry has stuck to its guns and its affidavits point to several lacunae in the functioning of the NGT, including the claim that the quasi-court has exceeded its powers as laid down in the National Green Tribunal Act.
The Ministry noted that as far back as September 2011, then chairperson of the tribunal Justice L.S. Panta wrote to the government saying law be amended to provide powers to it for taking suo motu action. In January 2012, then acting chairperson A.S. Naidu also wrote to the government. The Ministry disagreed with the tribunal and informed the latter so.
But the Ministry told the apex court that despite lack of the legal mandate and the government’s disagreement with the tribunal, the NGT has gone ahead and begun suo motu proceedings in a couple of cases. It recorded that the issue was raised in Parliament as well by a member and the government had to clarify that the tribunal did not have suo motu powers under the law.
The Ministry has raised other issues of impropriety that it claims the NGT has indulged in anti-government norms and regulations.
The NGT had asked for a staff of more than 400 but was sanctioned only 116. It included 21 drivers and 95 other positions. But the government said the NGT hired 100 people in the ‘D’ category without following the laid down procedures. The Ministry complained that after hiring so many people, the tribunal now says that there is not enough space for the hired staff in the premises. The Ministry noted that the balance of expert and judicial members on various benches have also not been evenly spread as required.
It also countered other allegations such as not providing accommodation and logistics to the tribunal members in Pune. It detailed how it had worked to provide private accommodation where government housing was not available but the panel members delayed a decision.