Unless immediate corrective action is taken, the NGT which has till recently served as an institution to provide environmental justice, will increasingly become an institution to perpetuate environmental injustice. If this is to happen, it will be a sad day for both India’s environment and democracy; writes Ritwick Dutta.
– Last few months have seen a massive decline in public confidence in the NGT. The first wake-up call was in July when the new chairperson of the NGT commented that around 50% of the petitions before the tribunal were filed by “blackmailers”. Nothing could be more distressing because this comes from an institution that was created to protect the rights of the people. Recently, the decision of the chairperson of NGT to rehear 18 cases, which were reserved for judgment, has raised concerns about both propriety as well as legality.
– The NGT, over the last two months, seems to have evolved four approaches to deal with litigations. First, dispose of existing cases. Second, form committees, comprising mostly people who were responsible for the problem, and outsource even adjudicatory functions. Third, refuse to entertain matters on the ground that the govt has approved the project or other hyper-technical grounds. And finally, rehear cases which were earlier reserved for judgment.
– One is not expecting the NGT to always give judgments in favour of those who approach it for protecting the environment. Rather, the cause for concern is the general reluctance of the tribunal to hear matters on merit, to consider the decision of the govt as virtually sacrosanct and submissions of project proponents as cast in stone. It must not be forgotten that the NGT is not a special tribunal, but a specialised tribunal set up to adjudicate on complex environmental issues through the use of both judicial and technical expertise.