Not competent to hear PILs on environmental issues, says High Court

The Madras High Court Bench here has held that it is not competent to entertain public interest litigation (PIL) petitions on environmental issues since the jurisdiction was vested exclusively with the National Green Tribunal (NGT), and its Benches, established in 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to environmental protection and conservation of forests as well as other natural resources.

A Division Bench of Justices S. Nagamuthu and M.V. Muralidaran made the observation while dismissing a PIL petition filed by Somasekharan Nair of Ramavarmanchirai in Kanniyakumari district accusing a private engineering contract company of running a stone crusher unit in the residential locality without permission thereby causing heavy air pollution and consequent health hazards to the residents, especially children.

The judges pointed out that the NGT Act, 2010 makes it clear that all issues related to the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess ACT 1977, Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, Environment (Protection) Act 1986, Public Liability Insurance Act 1991 and Biological Diversity Act 2002 could be agitated only before the tribunal.

They also said that the Supreme Court in Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan versus Union of India (2012) had said: “Keeping in view the provisions and scheme of the NGT Act, particularly Sections 14, 29, 30 and 38(5), it can safely be concluded that the environmental issues and matters covered under Schedule I of the Act should be instituted and litigated before the National Green Tribunal (for short NGT).

“Such approach may be necessary to avoid likelihood of conflict of orders between the High Courts and NGT. Thus, in unambiguous terms, we direct that all the matters instituted after coming into force of the NGT Act and which are covered under the provisions of the NGT Act and/or in Schedule I to the NGT Act shall stand transferred and can be instituted only before NGT. This will help in rendering expeditious and specialised justice in the filed of environment to all concerned.”