NGT’s new approach to pending cases raises eyebrows

Matter pertaining to air pollution in the city has been disposed of by the NGT.  

When Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel took over as chairperson of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on July 9 this year, there were over 3,000 cases pending with the green court.

In a bid to tackle the high pendency of cases, Justice Goel disposed of over 100 cases, at the principal Bench in Delhi, in the first month of his tenure, including matter pertaining to air pollution in the Capital. Most of the cases were wrapped up by constituting committees to monitor the issue.

Due to lack of appointments in the regional benches, the tribunal started hearing their matters through videoconferencing from July 23.

Environmental lawyers, however, said that the NGT’s ‘new trend’ of disposing of cases by setting up committees to monitor issues might not be enough to provide environmental justice.

Stating that merely setting up a panel is not enough to ensure a remedy, senior advocate Sanjay Upadhyay said: “While it is true that one looks forward to quick disposal of matters, it [the NGT] has to resolve the issue as well and not simply shift the burden on to a committee.”

“The NGT is supposed to act as an expert body, but now it is shifting the burden from one expert body to another. This might turn out to be a dangerous trend. It is essential that the strength and capacity of the members for technical expertise is increased as well,” said Mr. Upadhyay, who appeared for petitioner Vardhaman Kaushik in the Delhi air pollution matter.

The NGT disposed of the air pollution case on July 27 stating, “Further reports in the matter should be filed before the Central Pollution Control Board [CPCB] and the same be monitored by the CPCB. If any further directions are required, the CPCB may act in accordance with law or the matter can be brought before the tribunal. We also make it clear that the monitoring committee already constituted [in 2016] will continue to perform its duties.”

Besides the air pollution case, the NGT took a similar approach on a petition regarding the Yamuna cleaning project.

Noting the “failure of the administration in handling the situation and repeated failure in carrying out binding directions in various orders”, the green panel on July 26 constituted a monitoring committee comprising Shailaja Chandra, former Delhi Chief Secretary; and B.S. Sajwan, former expert member of the tribunal, to “take stock of all actions taken so far” in the project. The committee has also been directed to propose time-bound action plans.

However, advocate Rittwick Dutta, who appeared in the matter, said: “Passing orders running into a few pages is not enough and comprehensive judgments are required before disposing of matters. There have been virtually no judgments passed even on matters that were being heard for several years and have now been disposed of. The tribunal was set up as an expert body to adjudicate environmental matters and come out with comprehensive judgments, where technical expertise has also been applied. It was set up to look into disputes and use both judicial and technical expertise.”

“Disposing of matters and forming committees cannot be a uniform strategy to deal with the issues,” said Mr. Dutta.

Environmental activist Manoj Mishra, the petitioner in the Yamuna cleaning case, however, said: “Every chairman it seems has his own manner of disposing of long-pending cases. Committee formation is one such approach. Depending upon how sincerely the committees take up their assignment shall determine their efficacy. It is too early to comment on its adequacy. We hope the best while keeping our fingers crossed.”

A senior advocate, however, said that the new approach is not living up to the NGT’s mandate: “The new trend is reflecting an agenda to completely shut down and dilute the NGT. Every new matter is being dismissed and the practice of issuing notices to the government to seek representation has been stopped. Committees that are being formed are told to submit their reports by mail. This is similar to the working of various human rights and other commissions where reports are sought.”

“The NGT was set up with a lot of effort and this is being undone; if this continues, environmental justice will be completely jeopardised,” he added.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 9, 2021 7:22:10 AM |

Next Story