The National Green Tribunal put out three crucial verdicts this week.
On Monday, it ordered that the felling of over 16,000 trees for redevelopment projects in South Delhi be stayed until 19 July 2018. Issuing notices to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the Central Pollution Control Board, the Central Public Works Department, and other bodies, it asked them to file responses on the matter by this date.
The Pune bench of the National Green Tribunal, on Thursday, put a fine of 1.5 crore rupees on Maharashtra’s Public Works Department for causing environmental damage by constructing pillars at the Dhamapur dam.
On the same day, the Tribunal’s Delhi bench rejected a petition from Vedanta Ltd. where the company sought permission to restart its copper smelting activity, the subject of mass protests in Tamil Nadu.
A body that is responsible for hearing cases linked to environmental issues, the National Green Tribunal has contributed significantly to the environment since its inception.
Origin And Legal Status
The National Green Tribunal was established under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010. Its area of jurisdiction, according to the Act, includes cases linked to environmental protection and the conservation of forests, as well as the enforcement of legal rights linked to the environment and compensations or damages pertaining to them.
With its main bench located in Delhi, the Tribunal also has benches in Bhopal, Pune, Chennai, and Kolkata. It was envisaged as a body that would simultaneously reduce the burden on higher courts, and deliver speedier and more effective verdicts on environmental matters.
The laws included in the 2010 Act, upon which the Tribunal has the authority to hear cases, are:
1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
2. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977
3. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
4. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
5. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
6. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991
7. The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
Important to note here is the fact that the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 doesn’t fall under the National Green Tribunal’s mandate. This is because cases that fall under this Act are criminal cases, whereas the Tribunal’s jurisdiction is only over civil cases.
A case involving Posco, one of the world’s biggest steelmaking companies, and its deal with the Odisha state government to build a 12-million-tonne capacity steel project in the state, resulted in one of the Tribunal’s most important judgments.
Suspending the state government’s order in 2012, the body prevented massive damages to the environment by way of water depletion, soil erosion, and threats to migratory turtles and other wildlife in Odisha. It also protected hundreds of local livelihoods that would have been affected had the deal gone through.
The Delhi bench of the Tribunal, in 2015, expanded the body’s jurisdiction into town planning. Responding to an appeal regarding a slum redevelopment project in Mumbai, it ruled that open spaces, recreational areas, and adequate parking spaces ought to be taken into consideration as requirements under the right to life.
In 2016, the National Green Tribunal ordered Alaknanda Hydro Power Co. Ltd. to pay Rs. 9 crores as compensation to victims of the 2013 Uttarakhand floods. A dam constructed by the company in the state exacerbated the flooding and its impact on residents. This was the first time a private company was held accountable for damage caused by a natural disaster.
A long list of landmark judgments with significant bearings for the environment can be traced back to the body in the near-decade since it was created.