May 3, 2010
The long-pending National Green Tribunal (NGT) Bill was passed in Lok Sabha after environment minister Jairam Ramesh accepted some key amendments to the proposed legislation that parliamentarians cutting across party lines had suggested.
The bill, meant to set up special omnibus tribunals that would become the sole adjudicators on all `green laws’, had got stuck with both the Left and BJP raising objections to the legislation besides civil society also raising concerns about its impact.
A key change incorporated in the bill is to create benches of the tribunal on a circuit basis, which would make them mobile and allow the green benches to hear cases at places beyond their original location but within their jurisdiction. The amendment came with many complaining that the benches would become difficult for people to approach from far flung places.
An amendment has also been introduced to alter the criteria for who can file a case before the tribunal. Earlier, the bill allowed any representative body or organisation functioning in the field of environment to file a case. This has now been amended and `any person aggrieved, including any representative body organisation’, would be allowed to file an application for the grant of relief or compensation and settlement of disputes.
The environment ministry has also included three basic principles that have become part of green jurisprudence with several apex court orders establishing them. The polluter pays and precautionary principle will now be the basic framework against which the tribunals will adjudicate. While the first puts the onus on the polluter to pay for any financial liability arising out of an incident, the latter requires that the tribunal put the onus on the group or party under the scrutiny to prove that their actions will not cause harm to public or environment even though complete and absolute scientific clarity on the possible impacts of such actions does not exist.
The government has also decided to change the provisions of the bill and allow appeals against the tribunal to be heard by the Supreme Court. This was not permitted in the earlier bill and had raised concerns at several levels about setting a new precedent.