The Centre on Thursday told the Supreme Court that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) does not have the power to take cognisance of a matter on its own as it is not there in the statute.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) told a Bench headed by Justice A. M. Khanwilkar, which is examining the issue of whether the NGT has the power to take suo motu cognisance of a matter, that procedural aspects cannot tie up the powers and jurisdiction of the “peculiar” tribunal which has been constituted to deal with environmental matters.
“It is our respectful submission that the suo motu power is not there. However, to stretch it to the extent of saying that any letter, any application etc also can’t be entertained will be stretching it too far,” Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Ministry, told the apex court.
Ms. Bhati told the Bench, also comprising justices Hrishikesh Roy and C. T. Ravikumar, that powers of the tribunal cannot be bound by procedural constraints.
“In fact, nobody has argued that there is lack of power. This is a peculiar tribunal dealing with environmental matters. Often, environment ends up being nobody’s baby,” the ASG said.
The Bench asked Ms. Bhati if a communication about matter related to environment is received by the tribunal in a letter or affidavit form, will it not be duty bound to initiate process and require the concerned party to comply with the other formalities.
The ASG said that tribunal will be well within its power and in a way, duty bound to take cognisance of such a letter or communication.
“We have filed a one-page affidavit and all that we have said is suo motu power is not there in the statute and therefore, suo motu power can’t be exercised by the tribunal,” the ASG said.
Ms. Bhati referred to section 19 (1) of the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, which says that the tribunal shall not be bound by the procedure laid down by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 but shall be guided by the principles of natural justice.
“It is also our submission that procedural aspects are aspects which can be cured and can’t tie up the powers and jurisdiction which is otherwise amply clear and amply available to the tribunal,” she said.
She said once a letter or communication is received by the tribunal, it is within the power of the green panel to take cognisance of that.
During the arguments, which would continue on September 7, the Bench also heard submissions advanced by senior advocate Anand Grover, who is assisting the top court as an amicus curiae in the matter, and other lawyers appearing in the case. The apex court had on Wednesday observed that violation of environmental and forest laws are not disputes between two parties only as it affects the common public.
It had said the green panel has been established under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environment protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources, including enforcement of legal rights relating to environment.
The top court had earlier observed that purpose and intent behind the provisions of the NGT Act have to be kept in mind while dealing with the matter.
The Bench was hearing a batch of petitions in which issue regarding whether the NGT has power to take suo motu cognisance of a matter has cropped up.
In one of these matters, the NGT had earlier taken suo motu cognisance on the issue pertaining to solid waste management in Maharashtra and imposed cost of ₹5 crore on the municipal corporation.
The apex court was earlier told that the Bombay High Court was already monitoring the issue of solid waste management in Maharashtra and the NGT should not have taken cognisance on its own in the matter.