National Green Tribunal to hear all environmental cases: Supreme Court

Apex court order may create problems for the already understaffed and overworked tribunal

By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Published: Tuesday 14 August 2012

With the aim to “expedite” and provide “specialised” justice in the field of the environment, the Supreme Court has ruled that all matters related to the environment, pending in various high courts across the country, should be transferred to the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

In case of matters which were initiated before the NGT started functioning, the respective courts can decide if they want to transfer it to the tribunal or not. “Such approach may be necessary to avoid likelihood of conflict of orders between the high courts and the NGT,” the bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar said in its order on August 9.

But while the order will enhance the profile of NGT, it might also pose a challenge to the already understaffed and overworked tribunal by at least doubling the number of cases pending with it, say experts.

The NGT was established to decide on the matters related to the environment and became functional in July last year. However, given the apathy of the government that could not ensure basic amenities and necessary infrastructure to the NGT even after year of its functioning, the tribunal is being operated from a makeshift court room in Delhi’s Van Vigyan Bhavan. The tribunal is to have at least 10 judicial and 10 technical members, however, for most part of the year, the tribunal has been run by just half the required staff. The four regional benches across the country have been established but are being run by the overburdened staff in Delhi.

The NGT has gained popularity because of a few judgments leading to an increasing number of original appeals being filed before it. In the past one year, it has heard an average eight cases every day. It has disposed of 98 cases and about 200 are pending. An NGT member had told this correspondent in May this year that at times jury members had to write 50-page judgments in long hand because they did not have enough stenographers. “With increasing cases, it will be difficult to maintain the quality of work,” he said.

According to estimates, around 200 to 250 environmental cases have been initiated in the high courts after the establishment of NGT. While the wildlife cases will not be transferred to NGT, this might still double the pending cases with the tribunal. If the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, which even after repetitive directions of the Supreme Court could not ensure the amenities and infrastructure for NGT, continues to show disrespect for the tribunal, the NGT members will have to face a tough time, add experts.


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