National Green Tribunal

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National Green Tribunal

The National Green Tribunal has been established on 18.10.2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. It is a specialized body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues. The Tribunal shall not be bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but shall be guided by principles of natural justice.

The Tribunal’s dedicated jurisdiction in environmental matters shall provide speedy environmental justice and help reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts. The Tribunal is mandated to make and endeavour for disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing of the same. Initially, the NGT is proposed to be set up at five places of sittings and will follow circuit procedure for making itself more accessible. New Delhi is the Principal Place of Sitting of the Tribunal and Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai are the other four places of sitting of the Tribunal.

Chairman and Members

The tribunal shall consist of a full time chairperson, judicial members and expert members. The minimum number of judicial and expert member prescribed is ten in each category and maximum number is twenty in each category. Another important provision included in the law is that the chairperson, if find necessary, may invite any person or more person having specialized knowledge and experience in a particular case before the tribunal to assist the same in that case.

A judge of the Supreme Court of India or Chief Justice of High Court are eligible to be Chairperson or judicial member of the Tribunal. Even existing or retired judges of High Courts are qualified to be appointed as a Judicial Member.

A person is qualified to be an expert member if he has Master of Science with a Doctorate degree or Master of Engineering or Master of Technology and has an experience of fifteen years in the relevant field including five years practical experiences in the field of environment and forests in a reputed National level institutions. Anyone who has administrative experience of fifteen years including experience of five years in dealing with environment matters in the Central Government or a State Government or in National or State level institution is also eligible to be an expert member.

Jurisdiction

The Tribunal has Original Jurisdiction on matters of “substantial question relating to environment” (i.e. a community at large is affected, damage to public health at broader level) & “damage to environment due to specific activity” (such as pollution).

However, there is no specific method defined in Law for determining “substantial” damage to environment, property or public health. There is restricted access to an individual only if damage to environment is substantial. The powers of tribunal related to an award are equivalent to Civil court and tribunal may transmit any order/award to civil court have local jurisdiction, however, the tribunal does not follow civil law. it follows principles of natural justice. The Bill specifies that an application for dispute related to environment can be filled within six months only when first time dispute arose.

Also, the Tribunal is competent to hear cases for several acts such as Forest (Conservation) Act, Biological Diversity Act, Environment (Protection) Act, Water & Air (Prevention & control of Pollution) Acts etc. and also have appellate jurisdiction related to above acts after establishment of Tribunal within a period of 30 days of award or order received by aggrieved party.

The Bill says that decision taken by majority of members shall be binding and every order of Tribunal shall be final. Any person aggrieved by an award, decision, or order of the Tribunal may appeal to the Supreme Court within 90 days of commencement of award but Supreme Court can entertain appeal even after 90 days if appellant satisfied SC by giving sufficient reasons.

A division bench of the Madras high court comprising Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar and Justice P Devadass on February 2014 held that high courts did have jurisdiction to entertain appeals against the orders of the NGT as in Section 29 of the NGT Act 2010, which deals with bar of jurisdiction of civil courts the jurisdiction of the high court under Article 226/227 is not ousted.

Coastal Regulation Zone Notification

Under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 of India, a notification was issued in February 1991, for regulation of activities in the coastal area by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

As per the notification, the coastal land up to 500m from the High Tide Line (HTL) and a stage of 100m along banks of creeks, estuaries, backwater and rivers subject to tidal fluctuations, is called the Coastal Regulation Zone(CRZ). CRZ along the country has been placed in four categories. The above notification includes only the inter-tidal zone and land part of the coastal area and does not include the ocean part. The notification imposed restriction on the setting up and expansion[1] of industries or processing plaits etc. in the said CRZ. Coastal Regulation Zones(CRZ) are notified by the govt of India in 1991 for the first time. Under this coastal areas have been classified as CRZ-1, CRZ-2, CRZ-3, CRZ-4. And the same they retained for CRZ in 2003 notifications as well.

  1. CRZ-1: these are ecologically sensitive areas these are essential in maintaining the ecosystem of the coast. They lie between low and high tide line. Exploration of natural gas and extraction of salt are permitted
  2. CRZ-2: these areas form up to the shoreline of the coast. Unauthorised structures are not allowed to construct in this zone.
  3. CRZ-3: rural and urban localities which fall outside the 1 and 2. Only certain activities related to agriculture even some public facilities are allowed in this zone
  4. CRZ-4: this lies in the aquatic area up to territorial limits. Fishing and allied activities are permitted in this zone. Solid waste should be let off in this zone.

Importance of CRZ Notification

The current notification has several new positive features. It widens the definition of CRZ to include the land area from HTL to 500 m on the landward side, as well as the land area between HTL to 100 m or width of the creek, whichever is less, on the landward side along tidal influenced water bodies connected to the sea.

The CRZ also includes, for the first time, water area up to 12 nautical miles in the sea and the entire water area of a tidal water body such as creek, river, estuary without imposing any restrictions of fishing activities. Thus, the main change in the scope of regulation has been to expand the CRZ to include territorial waters as a protected zone. This may have been in response to the criticism that while the earlier CRZ notification regulated development on the coastal stretches, it did not per se deal with pollution of the sea in any direct terms.

The concept of a ‘hazard line’ has been introduced. While the notification merely states that the hazard line will be demarcated by the MOEF through the Survey of India, by taking into account tides, waves, sea level rise and shoreline changes, this concept owes its introduction to the realisation of natural disasters such as tsunami and floods that may take place in this zone. In May 2010, the MOEF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Survey of India for undertaking this exercise over a period of four-and-a-half years, at an estimated cost of Rs 125 crore.

CRZ IV has been changed from the 1991 notification, which covered coastal stretches in the islands of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshwadeep. The MOEF has issued a separate notification titled Island Protection Zone 2011 in relation to these areas.

A new category called areas requiring special consideration has been created which consists of (i) CRZ areas of Greater Mumbai, Kerala and Goa, and (ii) Critically vulnerable coastal areas such as Sunderbans.

Clearances for obtaining CRZ approval have been made time-bound. Further, for the first time, post-clearance monitoring of projects has been introduced in the form of the requirement to submit half-yearly compliance reports. With respect to the list of prohibited activities, one of the most important changes has been that of expanding the list of exceptions to the rule prohibiting setting up of new industries and expansion of existing industries. While the earlier exception was limited to those activities which required access to the water front, four other exceptions have been now incorporated which include:

  1. Projects of Department of Atomic Energy;
  2. Facilities for generating non-conventional energy sources and desalination plans, except for CRZ-I zones on a case-by-case basis after doing an impact assessment study;
  3. Development of greenfield airport permitted only at Navi Mumbai; and
  4. Reconstruction, repair works of dwelling units of local communities including fishers in accordance with local town and country planning regulations.

Another important aspect is the introduction of the Coastal Zone Management Plans, which will regulate coastal development activity and which are to be formulated by the State Governments or the administration of Union Territories. The 2011 Notification also lists out certain measures that have to be taken to prevent pollution in the coastal areas/coastal waters.

Eco-sensitive Zones

Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) or Ecologically Fragile Areas (EFAs) are areas notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. The purpose of declaring ESZs is to create some kind of “shock absorbers” to the protected areas by regulating and managing the activities around such areas. They also act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to areas involving lesser protection.

The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 does not mention the word “Eco-Sensitive Zones”. However, Section 3(2)(v) of the Act, says that Central Government can restrict areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards. Besides Rule 5(1) of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986[1] states that central government can prohibit or restrict the location of industries and carrying on certain operations or processes on the basis of considerations like the biological diversity of an area, maximum allowable limits of concentration of pollutants for an area, environmentally compatible land use, and proximity to protected areas. The above two clauses have been effectively used by the government to declare ESZs or EFAs.

The same criteria have been used by the government to declare No Development Zones. Time to time, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) approves a comprehensive set of guidelines laying down parameters and criteria for declaring ESZs. A committee constituted by MoEF puts this together. The guidelines lay out the criteria based on which areas can be declared as ESZs. These include Species Based (Endemism, Rarity etc), Ecosystem Based (sacred groves, frontier forests etc) and Geo-morphologic feature based (uninhabited islands, origins of rivers etc).

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