Municipal Corporation Of Gr. … vs Ankita Sinha on 7 October, 2021


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Supreme Court of India

Municipal Corporation Of Gr. … vs Ankita Sinha on 7 October, 2021

Author: Hrishikesh Roy

                                                                       [REPORTABLE]
                                 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                                  CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                             CIVIL APPEAL NOS. 12122-12123 OF 2018

          MUNICIPAL            CORPORATION   OF    GREATER   MUMBAI          …

          APPELLANT(S)

                                              VERSUS
          ANKITA SINHA & ORS.                                  ...RESPONDENT(S)
                                                      WITH
                                    CIVIL APPEAL NO. 86/2019
                                   CIVIL APPEAL NO. 5902/2019

                                 CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6273 OF 2021
                             (Arising out of SLP(C) No. 6732/2021)

                                 CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6274 OF 2021
                             (Arising out of SLP(C) No. 5930/2021)

                                 CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6275 OF 2021
                             (Arising out of SLP(C) No. 6733/2021)

                                 CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6276 OF 2021
                           (Arising out of SLP(C) No. 16448 OF 2021)
                                     Diary No. 11655/2021

                               CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6277-6278 OF 2021
                         (Arising out of SLP(C) No.16449-16450 OF 2021)
                                      Diary No. 13789/2021

                                 CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6279 OF 2021
Signature Not Verified
                           (Arising out of SLP(C) No. 16451 OF 2021)
                                     Diary No. 13811/2021
Digitally signed by
Rachna
Date: 2021.10.07
16:31:25 IST
Reason:



                               CIVIL APPEAL NO.6280-6281 OF 2021

                                             Page 1 of 77
      (Arising out of SLP(C) No.16452-16453 OF 2021)
                   Diary No. 13890/2021

                   CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2897/2021

                CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6282 OF 2021
          (Arising out of SLP(C) No. 11426 OF 2021)

                CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6283 OF 2021
          (Arising out of SLP(C) No. 11427 OF 2021)

                 CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6262 OF 2021
                    Diary No. 16948 OF 2021

                CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6284 OF 2021
          (Arising out of SLP(C) No. 11798 OF 2021)

                CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6285 OF 2021
          (Arising out of SLP(C) No. 12669 OF 2021)

                CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6286 OF 2021
          (Arising out of SLP(C) No. 16454 OF 2021)
                      Diary No. 19534/2021


                          J U D G M E N T

Hrishikesh Roy, J.

“Estragon: Let’s go.

Vladimir: We can’t.

Estragon: Why not?

1

Vladimir: We’re waiting for Godot.”

1. Leave granted in the Special Leave Petitions.

2. The consideration to be made in these matters is

whether the National Green Tribunal (for short “the

1 Beckett, S. (1954). Waiting for Godot: Tragicomedy in 2 Acts.

Page 2 of 77
NGT”) has the power to exercise Suo Motu jurisdiction

in discharge of its functions under the National Green

Tribunal Act, 2010 (for short, “the NGT Act 2010”).

3. In the lead case in this group, i.e. the Civil

Appeal No. 86 of 2019, the NGT noticed an article

titled “Garbage Gangs of Deonar: The Kingpins and Their

Multi-Crore Trade” in the online news portal, The

Quint. The article spoke of how mismanagement of solid

waste had an adverse impact on the environment, public

health and lives of individuals living in the vicinity

of the dumping ground in Mumbai city.

4. The NGT took suo motu cognizance of the above

article vide order dated 07.08.2018 and directed that

the article writer Ankita Sinha be the applicant in the

case OA No. 510 of 2018, registered at the NGT’s

instance. Thereafter, steps were taken for inspection

of the Deonar Dumping site by the representative of the

Central Pollution Control Board, Maharashtra Pollution

Control Board, the District Collector of the area and

also the representative of the Municipal Corporation of

Page 3 of 77
Greater Mumbai (for short “the MCGM”). Pursuant to the

Report of the inspecting team which highlighted that

the landfill site failed to comply with the provisions

of the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, the NGT vide

order dated 30.10.2018 noted that ‘damage to the

environment and public health is self-evident’ and

ordered MCGM to pay compensation to the tune of Rs. 5

crores.

5. This Court while entertaining the Civil Appeal No.

86/2019 of MCGM, ordered stay on the operation of the

order passed by the NGT and thereafter arranged for

analogous consideration of the related cases where the

common threshold jurisdictional issue arises on whether

the NGT has the power to exercise suo motu

jurisdiction.

6. Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, Mr. Dushyant Dave, Mr. Jaideep

Gupta, Mr. Dhruv Mehta, Mr. Atmaram Nadkarni, Mr.

Krishnan Venugopal, Mr. V. Giri, Mr. Sajan Poovayya and

Mr. Sidhartha Dave, learned Senior Counsel together

with Mr. E.M.S Anam, Ms. Amrita Sharma, Mr. S.

Page 4 of 77
Thananjayan have taken a common stand. They have

argued that the NGT is a Tribunal and a creature of

statute and as such, it cannot act on its own motion or

exercise the power of judicial review or act suo motu,

in discharge of its function. Being a creature of the

statute, the forum cannot assume inherent powers as

under Article 32 and Article 226 and its domain is

circumscribed by the limitations so imposed. The

learned counsel also argue that the NGT has an

adjudicatory role to decide disputes which necessarily

mean involvement of two or more contesting parties.

Therefore, the NGT by acting suo motu cannot transpose

itself to the shoes of one such party. The absence of

general power of judicial review with the NGT (which is

available with superior courts) is highlighted to keep

away suo motu power from the NGT. Various judgments

relating to the Tribunal’s power and role are cited by

the counsel and those would be discussed in later part

of this order.

7. Projecting the contrary view, Mr. Nidhesh Gupta,

the learned Senior Counsel appearing for the aggrieved

Page 5 of 77
party in SLP(C) No. 6732/2021, Mr. Sanjay Parikh,

learned Senior Counsel for the Intervener in C.A.

No.86/2019 and Mr. Gopal Sankaranarayanan, learned

Senior Counsel appearing for the Impleader I.A.

No.71482/2021 in the SLP(C) No. 6732/2021, by referring

to the special role envisaged for the NGT and the

history of its incorporation, make equally powerful

submission in support of exercise of suo motu

jurisdiction, by the NGT.

8. Mr. Anand Grover, the learned Senior Counsel was

appointed as the Amicus Curiae to assist the Court and

he was heard at length. The counsel acknowledges the

NGT’s role and position under the Act and its wide

jurisdiction over environmental matters but Mr. Grover

is of the view that the NGT is incapable of triggering

action on its own. In other words, the NGT cannot act

suo motu without someone moving the Forum as otherwise

the forum then would be perceived to be judging its own

cause. Since suo motu power is not conferred under the

NGT Act, the specialized tribunal has to be moved by an

outside party. But the format of the application is not

Page 6 of 77
important and even a letter addressed by an interested

party, will clothe the NGT with power to take action is

the concessional submission of Mr. Grover.

9. Representing the Central Government, Ms. Aishwarya

Bhati, the learned Additional Solicitor General of

India submitted that Suo Motu power is not exercisable

by the NGT since the same has not been conferred on the

forum under the NGT Act, unlike the situation in the

now repealed National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995

(hereinafter referred to as the “NET Act”). The

counsel refers to the provisions of the NGT Act and

submits that the concept of locus standi was expanded

for NGT’s intervention under Section 18(2)(e) but the

tribunal is not vested with suo motu power to take

action on its own unlike the High Courts and the

Supreme Court. The learned ASG, however, submits that

even on receipt of a letter, the NGT can commence

action on environmental matters. Thus, on exercise of

epistolary jurisdiction by the NGT, the ASG is on the

same page as the amicus curiae but as earlier noted

Page 7 of 77
both counsel argue for keeping away the suo motu power

from the NGT.

10.1 Having summarized the positions taken by the

respective Counsel, we may now refer to the specific

grounds of challenge to keep away suo motu power from

the NGT. The concerned counsel project that NGT is a

creature of the statute and just like other such

statutory tribunals, the NGT is also bound within

statutory confines. They have relied upon Standard

Chartered Vs. Dharminder Bhohi2 wherein, provisions of

the Recovery of the Debts Due to Banks and Financial

Institutions Act, 1993 were analysed to note the

limitations of the Debt Recovery Tribunal and Appellate

Tribunal. From the analysis of Justice Dipak Misra (as

his Lordship then was) for the Division Bench, it can

be inferred that the Tribunal was given power under the

statute to pass such other orders and give such

directions to give effect to its orders or to prevent

abuse of its process or to secure the ends of justice

but in discharge of its functions the Tribunal was

2 (2013) 15 SCC 341

Page 8 of 77
required to confine itself to within the statutory

parameters. Thus, Section 19(25) conferred limited

powers and the submission thus is that the Tribunal

does not have any inherent powers.

10.2 Similarly, Justice S.H. Kapadia (as his Lordship

then was) in Transcore Vs. Union of India3, opined on

behalf of a Division Bench that,

“ 67. …The DRT is a tribunal, it is the
creature of the statute, it has no
inherent power which exists in the civil
courts.”

10.3 The counsel also projects that in the context of

Consumer Forums, Justice Dalveer Bhandari (as his

Lordship then was) speaking for a three judge bench in

Rajeev Hitendra Pathak Vs. Achyut Kashinath4, observed

as under : –

“ 34. On a careful analysis of the
provisions of the Act, it is abundantly
clear that the Tribunals are creatures of
the statute and derive their power from
the express provisions of the statute. The
District Forums and the State Commissions
have not been given any power to set aside
ex parte orders and the power of review
3 (2008) 1 SCC 125
4 (2011) 9 SCC 541

Page 9 of 77
and the powers which have not been
expressly given by the statute cannot be
exercised.”

11.1 The second limb of contention is that the Act is

applicable to ‘disputes’ as, necessarily referring to

a lis between two parties. The counsel has relied upon

Techi Tagi Tara Vs. Rajendra Singh Bhandari & Ors.5

wherein the term ‘substantial question relating to

environment’ was interpreted in an attenuated fashion

to mean a question arising as part of a dispute. The

submission therefore is that a dispute must necessitate

a claimant or an applicant. Further, this dispute must

also be capable of settlement by the NGT. In the cited

case the proposition is articulated in the following

fashion,

“19. On a combined reading of all these
provisions, it is clear to us that there
must be a substantial question relating to
the environment and that question must
arise in a dispute — it should not be an
academic question. There must also be a
claimant raising that dispute which
dispute is capable of settlement by the
NGT by the grant of some relief which
could be in the nature of compensation or
restitution of property damaged or

5 (2018) 11 SCC 734

Page 10 of 77
restitution of the environment and any
other incidental or ancillary relief
connected therewith.

20. …In Prabhakar v. Deptt. of
Sericulture [Prabhakar v. Deptt. of
Sericulture, (2015) 15 SCC 1 : (2016) 2
SCC (L&S) 149] the following definition of
“dispute” was noted in paras 34 and 35 of
the Report: (SCC p. 21)
“34. To understand the meaning of the word
“dispute”, it would be appropriate to
start with the grammatical or dictionary
meaning of the term:

‘ “Dispute”.—to argue about, to contend
for, to oppose by argument, to call in
question — to argue or debate (with, about
or over) — a contest with words; an
argument; a debate; a quarrel;’

35. Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Edn., p.
424 defines “dispute” as under:

‘Dispute.—A conflict or controversy; a
conflict of claims or rights; an assertion
of a right, claim, or demand on one side,
met by contrary claims or allegations on
the other. The subject of litigation; the
matter for which a suit is brought and
upon which issue is joined, and in
relation to which jurors are called and
witnesses examined.’ ”

11.2 The amicus curiae has also addressed this issue,

by defining a dispute as necessitating an assertion and

a denial. By this reasoning, it is submitted that

function of Section 14 of the NGT Act is available only

to adjudicate upon disputes, as in an adversarial

Page 11 of 77
system but not for any other ameliorative, restorative

or preventative functions.

12.1 Thirdly, the lack of general power of Judicial

Review has been argued to show legislative intent to

curb suo motu powers. Counsel have stated that the NGT,

as a Tribunal with prescribed authority under a

statute, does not have any general power of judicial

review. Thus, it is not within the category of Writ

Courts as under Article 226 and Article 32 of the

Constitution of India. In the relied upon judgment

Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board v. Sterlite

Industries (I) Ltd.,6 Justice R.F. Nariman speaking

about the NGT for a Division Bench of this Court has

observed the following,

“41. …Suffice it to say that the NGT is
not a tribunal set up either under Article
323-A
or Article 323-B of the
Constitution, but is a statutory tribunal
set up under the NGT Act. That such a
tribunal does not exercise the
jurisdiction of all courts except the
Supreme Court is clear from a reading of
Section 29 of the NGT Act…………

6 (2019) 19 SCC 479

Page 12 of 77

43. …In the present case, it is clear
that Section 16 of the NGT Act is cast in
terms that are similar to Section 14(b) of
the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
Act, 1997, in that appeals are against the
orders, decisions, directions, or
determinations made under the various Acts
mentioned in Section 16. It is clear,
therefore, that under the NGT Act, the
Tribunal exercising appellate jurisdiction
cannot strike down rules or regulations
made under this Act. Therefore, it would
be fallacious to state that the Tribunal
has powers of judicial review akin to that
of a High Court exercising constitutional
powers under Article 226 of the
Constitution of India. We must never
forget the distinction between a superior
court of record and courts of limited
jurisdiction that was, in the felicitous
language of Gajendragadkar, C.J., in
Powers, Privileges and Immunities of State
Legislatures, In re [Powers, Privileges
and Immunities of State Legislatures, In
re, (1965) 1 SCR 413 : AIR 1965 SC 745] ,
made in the following words: (SCR p. 499:
AIR p. 789, para 138)
“138. We ought to make it clear that we
are dealing with the question of
jurisdiction and are not concerned with
the propriety or reasonableness of the
exercise of such jurisdiction. Besides, in
the case of a superior court of record, it
is for the court to consider whether any
matter falls within its jurisdiction or
not. Unlike a court of limited
jurisdiction, the superior court is
entitled to determine for itself questions
about its own jurisdiction.

‘Prima facie’, says Halsbury, ‘no matter
is deemed to be beyond the jurisdiction of
a superior court unless it is expressly
shown to be so, while nothing is within

Page 13 of 77
the jurisdiction of an inferior court
unless it is expressly shown on the face
of the proceedings that the particular
matter is within the cognizance of the
particular court [Halsbury’s Laws of
England, Vol. 9, p. 349] ’. ”
For this reason also, we are of the view
that the State Government order made under
Section 18 of the Water Act, not being the
subject-matter of any appeal under Section
16 of the NGT Act, cannot be “judicially
reviewed” by the NGT. Following the
judgment in BSNL [BSNL v. TRAI, (2014) 3
SCC 222] , we are of the view that the NGT
has no general power of judicial review
akin to that vested under Article 226 of
the Constitution of India possessed by the
High Courts of this country. Shri
Sundaram’s strong reliance on the NGT
judgment dated 17-7-2014 in Wilfred J. v.
Ministry of Environment & Forests [Wilfred
J. v. Ministry of Environment & Forests,
2014 SCC OnLine NGT 6860] must also be
rejected as this NGT judgment does not
state the law on this aspect correctly.
This contention is also without merit, and
therefore, rejected.”

12.2 The argument has been that the superior Courts

exercising discretionary powers under Article 32 and

Article 226, to safeguard fundamental rights, can

venture into judicial review. But such a power not

being expressly conferred on the NGT would suggest the

limited nature of the Forum’s powers, which would

exclude any suo motu exercise.

Page 14 of 77
I. THE BACKDROP OF THE NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL

13.1 In order to understand the contours of

jurisdiction of the NGT, we have thought it necessary to

refer to the history of the legislation and also the

Preamble and the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the

NGT Act. The parliamentary intent which shaped the

creation of the NGT and the broad issues that they

sought to address through the specialized institution

should now be brought to the fore.

13.2 The precursor to the NGT Act was the 186th Report

of the Law Commission of India dated 23.9.2003 where the

Law Commission had made the following pertinent

observation espousing the case for the creation of a

specialized Court to deal with environmental issues:-

“It is true that the High Court and
Supreme Court have been taking up these
and other complex environmental issues and
deciding them. But, though they are
judicial bodies, they do not have an
independent statutory panel of
environmental scientists to help and
advise them on a permanent basis. They
are prone to apply principles like the
Wednesbury Principle and refuse to go into
the merits. They do not also make spot
inspections or receive oral evidence to

Page 15 of 77
see for themselves the facts as they exist
on ground. On the other hand, if
Environmental Courts are established in
each State, these Courts can make spot
inspections and receive oral evidence.

They can receive independent advice on
scientific matters by a panel of
scientists.

These Environmental Courts need not be
Courts of exclusive jurisdiction.

However, the High Courts, even if they are
approached under Art. 226 either in
individual cases or in PIL cases, where
orders of environmental authorities could
be questioned, may refuse to intervene on
the ground that there is an effective
alternative remedy before the specialist
Environmental Court. As of now, when we
have consumer Courts at the District and
State level, the High Courts have
consistently refused to entertain writ
petitions under Art. 226 because parties
have a remedy before the fora established
under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
We have also the example of special
environmental courts in Australia, New
Zealand and in some other countries and
these are manned by Judges and expert
commissioners. The Royal Commission in
UK is also of the view that if
environmental courts are established, the
High Courts may refuse to entertain
applications for judicial review on the
ground that there is an effective
alternative remedy before these Courts.
It is for the above reasons we are
proposing the establishment of separate
environmental courts in each State. In
Chapter IX, we propose to give the details
of the constitution, power and
jurisdiction of these Courts.”

Page 16 of 77
13.3 The above would suggest that the Law Commission

was of the opinion that it is not convenient for the

High Courts and the Supreme Court to make local

inquiries or receive evidence. Moreover, the superior

courts will not have access to expert environmental

scientists on permanent basis to assist them.

Therefore, NGT was conceived as a complimentary

specialized forum to deal with all environmental multi-

disciplinary issues both as original and also as an

appellate authority, which complex issues were hitherto

dealt with by the High Courts and the Supreme Court.

13.4 The NGT, therefore, was intended to be the

competent forum for dealing with environmental issues

instead of those being canvassed under the writ

jurisdiction of the Courts. It was explicitly noted

that the creation of the NGT would allow for the

Supreme Court and High Court to avoid intervening under

their inherent jurisdiction when an alternative

efficacious remedy would become available before the

specialized forum. The 186th Law Commission Report

provided the following reasoning,

Page 17 of 77
“Likewise, we have not thought it fit to
enable the Environmental Courts, to have
judicial review powers exercised by the
High Court under Art. 226 of the
Constitution of India. We have felt that
it is sufficient to vest original civil
jurisdiction as exercisable by a Civil
Court, in the Environmental Courts. If we
vest powers of Judicial review as under
Art. 226, then there may be need to
subject the orders to the writ
jurisdiction of High Courts as held in L.
Chandra Kumar vs. Union of India
, 1997 (3)
SCC 261.

No doubt, the Environment Court exercising
powers of a Civil Court or as an appellate
Court in civil jurisdiction, may be
technically amenable to writ jurisdiction
of the High Court but inasmuch as we are
providing an appeal to the Supreme Court,
the High Courts may decline to interfere
on the ground that there is an effective
alternative remedy of appeal on law and
fact to the Supreme Court, as explained
later in this Chapter.”7

Thus, the power of judicial review was omitted to

ensure avoidance of High Courts’ interference with the

Tribunal’s orders by way of a mid-way scrutiny by the

High Court, before the matter travels to the Supreme

Court where NGT’s orders can be challenged. The

streamlining of the mechanism was to arrest the growing

7 Chapter II, 186th Law Commission Report.

Page 18 of 77
tide of litigation before High Courts and the Supreme

Court and shift such issues to the domain of the NGT.

13.5 This is how the proposed forum was made free

from the rules of evidence and the NGT was permitted to

lay down its own procedure to entertain oral and

documentary evidence, consult experts etc. The

observance of the principles of natural justice was

however mandated.

II. PREAMBLE & STATEMENT OF OBJECTS AND REASONS

14.1 The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the NGT

Act will now require attention. Paras 2,3,4,5 and 6

of the Statement of Objects and Reasons being relevant

are extracted hereinbelow: –

“2. India is a party to the decisions taken
at the United Nations Conference on the
Human Environment held at Stockholm in
June, 1972, in which India participated,
calling upon the States to take
appropriate steps for the protection and
improvement of the human environment. The
United Nations Conference on Environment
and Development held at Rio de Janeiro in
June, 1992, in which India participated,
has also called upon the States to provide

Page 19 of 77
effective access to judicial and
administrative proceedings, including
redress and remedy, and to develop
National laws regarding liability and
compensation for the victims of pollution
and other environmental damage.

3. The right to healthy environment has
been construed as a part of the right to
life under article 21 of the Constitution
in the judicial pronouncement in India.

4. The National Environment Tribunal Act,
1995 was enacted to provide for strict
liability for damages arising out of any
accident occurring while handling any
hazardous substance and for the
establishment of a National Environmental
Tribunal for effective and expeditious
disposal of cases arising from such
accident, with a view to giving relief and
compensation for damages to persons,
property and the environment. However,
the National Environment Tribunal, which
had a very limited mandate, was not
established. The National Environment
Appellate Authority Act
, 1997 was enacted
to establish the National Environment
Appellate Authority to hear appeals with
respect to restriction of 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 under the Environment
(Protection) Act
, 1986. The National
Environment Appellate Authority has a
limited workload because of the narrow
scope of its jurisdiction.

5. Taking into account account the large
number of environmental cases pending in
higher courts and the involvement of
multidisciplinary issues in such cases,
the Supreme Court requested the Law

Page 20 of 77
Commission of India to consider the need
for constitution of specialized
environmental courts. Pursuant to the
same, the Law Commission has recommended
the setting up of environmental courts
having both original and appellate
jurisdiction relating to environmental
laws.

6. In view of the foregoing paragraphs, a
need has been felt to establish a
specialized tribunal to handle the
multidisciplinary issues involved in
environmental cases. Accordingly, it has
been decided to enact a law to provide for
the establishment of the National Green
Tribunal for effective and expeditious
disposal of civil cases relating to
environmental protection and conservation
of forests and other natural resources
including enforcement of any legal right
relating to environment.”

14.2 A reading of the Statement of Objects and Reasons

shows that paragraph 4 thereof refers to the National

Environmental Tribunal Act, 1995 (NET) which provided

for strict liability and damages arising out of

accidents occurring while handling hazardous

substances. In the same context it was observed that

the NET had a very limited and narrow mandate and

jurisdiction. Thereafter, in Para 5 it has been

recorded that a large number of environmental cases are

pending in higher Courts which involve multi-

Page 21 of 77
disciplinary issues and, in such cases, the Supreme

Court had requested the Law Commission of India to

consider the need for constitution of specialized

environmental Courts.

14.3 Significantly, the Statement of Objects and

Reasons also refers to right to a healthy environment

being a part of the right to life under Article 21 of

the Constitution of India. This was consistent with

the earlier mentioned 186th Law Commission Report

highlighting that the body so created, would aim to

“achieve the objectives of Article 21, 47, 48A, 51A (g)

of the Constitution of India by means of a fair, fast

and satisfactory judicial procedure”. An institution

concerned with a significant aspect of right to life

necessarily should be given the most liberal

construction.

14.4 The paragraph 2 of the Statement of Objects and

Reasons refers to the United Nations Conference on the

Human Environment held at Stockholm in June 1972 which

called upon governments and peoples to exert common

Page 22 of 77
efforts for the preservation and improvement of the

human environment when it involved people and for their

posterity. Therefore, the municipal law enacted with

such a laudatory objective of not only preventing

damage to the environment but also to protect it, must

be provided with the wherewithal to discharge its

protective, preventive and remedial function towards

protection of the environment. The mandate and

jurisdiction of the NGT is therefore conceived to be of

the widest amplitude and it is in the nature of a sui

generis forum.

14.5 The United Nations Conference on Environment and

Development held at Rio De Janeiro in June, 1992 where

India participated, impressed upon the States to

provide effective access to judicial and administrative

proceedings, lay out redress and remedy and to develop

national laws regarding liability and compensation for

the victims of pollution and other environmental

damage. The Preamble of the Act significantly

emphasized on construing the right to healthy

environment as a part of the Right to Life under

Page 23 of 77
Article 21 of the Constitution which was accepted by

various judicial pronouncements in India. The National

Green Tribunal was born in our country with such lofty

dreams to deal with multi-disciplinary issues, relating

to the environment.

14.6 The limited mandate conferred on the earlier forum

i.e. the NET and the narrow scope of jurisdiction of

the National Environment Appellate Authority along with

the involvement of multi-disciplinary issues arising in

environmental cases, were intended to be addressed

through the constitution of the NGT.

III. THE NEED FOR PURPOSIVE INTERPRETATION

15.1 While adequate clarity is discernible in the

phraseology that is employed under Section 14 and other

provisions of the NGT Act, as shall be discussed in

later parts of the judgement, the intention behind the

statute should receive our careful attention. Tracing

the legislative history for creation of the NGT it is

seen that the NGT is intended to address wide ranging

Page 24 of 77
societal concerns and these have prompted us to opt for

purposive interpretation. The Statue will have to be

read in its entirety and each provision of the Act must

be given its due meaning by comprehending the mischief

it intends to remedy. The chosen interpretive exercise

is best understood from the treatise Interpretation of

Statutes, authored by Justice G.P. Singh who explained

thus,

“When the question arises as to the meaning
of certain provision in statute, it is not
only legitimate but proper to read that
provision in its context. The context here
means, the statute as a whole, the
previous state of the law, other statutes
in pari materia, the general scope of the
statute, and the mischief that it was
intended to remedy. This statement of the
rule was later fully adopted by the
Supreme Court.

It is a rule now firmly established that
the intention of the Legislature must be
found by reading the statute as a whole.
The rule is referred to as an ‘elementary
rule’ by Viscount Simonds: a compelling
rule by Lord Sommervell of Harrow; and a
“settled rule” by B.K. Mukherjee J. “I
agree” said Lord Halsbury, “that you must
look at the whole in order to give effect,
if it be possible to do so, to the
intention of the framer of it.”

Page 25 of 77
15.2 The mischief that the NGT Act attempted to remedy

were underscored in the legislative history, and the

pronouncements of the constitutional Courts flagging

their environmental concerns.

15.3 The application of the Heydon’s Rule could

adequately aid us here as the Rule directs adoption of

that construction which “shall suppress the mischief and

advance the remedy” as was pertinently observed by

Justice S.R. Das, for a seven judge bench in Bengal

Immunity Co. vs. State of Bihar8,

“…the office of all judges is to make
such construction as shal suppresses the
mischief and advance the remedy, and to
suppress subtle inventions and evasions
for continuance of the mischief; and pro
privato commodo, and to add force and life
to the cure and remedy, according to the
true intent of the makers of the Act, pro
bono publico.”

15.4 Francis Bennion in his book Statutory

Interpretation described ‘purposive interpretation’

as under:

8 1955 (2) SCR 603; AIR 1955 SC 661

Page 26 of 77
‘A purposive construction of an enactment
is one which gives effect to the
legislative purpose by—

(a) following the literal meaning of the
enactment where that meaning is in
accordance with the legislative purpose,
or

(b) applying a strained meaning where the
literal meaning is not in accordance with
the legislative purpose.’

15.5 Justice Frankfurter of US Supreme Court in
‘Some Reflections on the Reading of Statutes’, has
elucidated on the principles to ascertain the
contextual meaning of statutes in the following
manner,
‘The purpose of construction being the
ascertainment of meaning, every con-
sideration brought to bear for the
solution of that problem must be devoted
to that end alone.

Judge Learned Hand speaks of the art of
interpretation as ‘the proliferation of
purpose’.”9

Eventually, Justice Frankfurter relied upon Justice

Benjamin Cardozo’s phraseology in Panama Refining Co.

Vs. Ryan, and the same is taken as a lodestar in our

quest,

“the meaning of a statute is to be looked
for, not in any single section, but in all

9 47 Columbia Law Review 527

Page 27 of 77
the parts together and in their relation to
the end in view”10.

15.6 The laudatory objectives for creation of the NGT

would implore us to adopt such an interpretive process

which will achieve the legislative purpose and will

eschew procedural impediment or so to say incapacity.

The precedents of this Court, suggest a construction

which fulfills the object of the Act. 11 The choice for

this Court would be to lean towards the interpretation

that would allow fructification of the legislative

intention and is forward looking. The provisions must be

read with the intention to accentuate them, especially

as they concern protections of rights under Article 21

and also deal with vital environmental policy and its

regulatory aspects.

IV. SALIENT STATUTORY FEATURES OF NGT ACT –

16.1 Applying the chosen tool of interpretation to the

statutory layout of the NGT Act, following provisions

10 293 U.S. 388 (1935) (dissenting)
11 Sarah Mathew v. Institute of Cardio Vascular Diseases (2014) 2 SCC 62, New
India Assurance Co. Ltd. Vs. Nusli Neville Wadia (2008) 3 SCC 279.

Page 28 of 77
will require the Court’s attention. Section 2(1)(c) of

the NGT Act defines the term “environment”; Section

2(1)(m) defines “substantial question relating to

environment”. Chapter III relates to jurisdiction,

power and proceedings of the Tribunal. The Section 14

gives original jurisdiction to the NGT to decide a

substantial question relating to environment; Section

15 deals with relief, compensation and restitution

whereby besides providing relief to the victims of

pollution, the NGT can direct restitution of property

damage and restitution of environment for such area(s)

“as the Tribunal may think fit”. Section 16 gives

appellate jurisdiction to the Tribunal against the

orders passed under various enactments. Section 17

provides for liability to pay relief or compensation in

certain cases, Section 18 specifies who can move

application/appeal before the Tribunal. It includes,

among others, 18(2)(d) “any person aggrieved including

any representative body / organization” and the locus

standi is not limited only to the aggrieved party.

Section 19 provides for procedure and powers of the

Page 29 of 77
Tribunal. Section 19(1) significantly says that the

Tribunal shall not be bound by procedures laid down in

the CPC and shall be bound by the Principles of Natural

Justice. Section 19(2) provides that subject to the

provisions of the Act, the Tribunal shall have powers

to regulate its own procedure. Section 19(3) mentions

that the Tribunal shall not be bound by the rules of

evidence contained in the Evidence Act, 1872. While

discharging functions under Section 19(4), besides

summoning, enforcing attendance, examining persons on

oath, requiring discovery and production of documents,

receiving evidence on oath, the NGT also has powers to

review its decision, to pass interim orders as well as

pass cease and desist orders. Section 20 says that

while adjudicating issues, the Tribunal shall apply the

environmental principles, namely, sustainable

development principles, precautionary principles and

polluter pays principle. Under Section 25, the Tribunal

can execute its order/decision as a decree of the Civil

Court and for that purpose shall have all the powers of

a Civil Court. Section 29 bars the jurisdiction of the

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Civil Court to entertain all environmental matters

covered by the Tribunal. Under Section 33, the NGT Act

has an overriding effect over other laws.

16.2 While on the statutory provisions, it is seen

that the Central Government has framed the National

Green Tribunal (Practice & Procedure) Rules, 2011 (for

short “the NGT Rules”). For our purpose, Rule 24 is

important which reads thus:

“24. Order and directions in certain
cases – The Tribunal may make such orders
or give such directions as may be
necessary or expedient to give effect to
its order or to prevent abuse of its
process or to secure the ends of justice.”

16.3 The said Rules make it clear that the NGT has

been given wide discretionary powers to secure the ends

of justice. This power is coupled with the duty to be

exercised for achieving the objectives. The intention

understandably being to preserve and protect the

environment and the matters connected thereto.

16.4 By choosing to employ a phrase of wide import,

i.e. secure the ends of justice, the legislature has

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nudged towards a liberal interpretation. Securing

justice is a term of wide amplitude and does not simply

mean adjudicating disputes between two rival entities.

It also encompasses inter alia, advancing causes of

environmental rights, granting compensation to victims

of calamities, creating schemes for giving effect to

the environmental principles and even hauling up

authorities for inaction, when need be.

16.5 Moreover, unlike the civil courts which cannot

travel beyond the relief sought by the parties, the NGT

is conferred with power of moulding any relief. The

provisions show that the NGT is vested with the widest

power to appropriate relief as may be justified in the

facts and circumstances of the case, even though such

relief may not be specifically prayed for by the

parties.

16.6 Another distinguishing feature of the

environmental forum is on the aspect of locus standi

which was made as wide as is available to the High

Courts and the Supreme Court. Thus, any person or

Page 32 of 77
organization who may be interested in the subject

matter is permitted to approach the NGT.

16.7 The provisions of the NGT Act and the NGT Rules

demonstrate that myriad roles are to be discharged by

the NGT, as was encapsulated in the Law Commission

Report, the Preamble and the Statement of Objects and

Reasons. This is also forthcoming from the

international obligation and commitment by India to

implement the decision taken at the Stockholm and the

Rio De Janeiro Conventions towards protection of the

environmental rights under Article 21 of the

Constitution.

V.     NON-ADJUDICATORY ROLES OF NGT

17.1          As can be seen, the Parliament intended to

confer wide jurisdiction on the NGT so that it can deal

with the multitude of issues relating to the

environment which were being dealt with by the High

Courts under Article 226 of the Constitution or by the

Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution.

The Tribunal is also expected to proceed with such

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matters with the understanding that environment and

environmental principles are part of Article 21 of the

Constitution. [See Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum vs.

UOI12; M.C. Mehta vs. UOI13 etc.]

17.2 The Schedule I of the NGT Act is concerned with

implementation of few environmental related enactments

such as the Water Act, the Air Act, the Environment

Act, the Forest Conservation Act etc. As one looks at

these enactments, an expanded role for the NGT is

clearly discernible. The activities of the NGT are not

only geared towards the protection of the environment

but also to ensure that the developments do not cause

serious and irreparable damage to the ecology and the

environment. These would suggest a broad canvas for the

NGT Act as also its creation.

17.3 For the environmental forum, tasked with

implementation of the statutes mentioned in Schedule I

of the NGT Act, the concept of lis, would obviously be

beyond the usual understanding in civil cases where

12 (1996) 5 SCC 647
13 (1997) 2 SCC 353

Page 34 of 77
there is a party (whether private or government)

disturbing the environment and the other one (could be

an individual, a body or the government itself), who

has concern for the protection of environment.

Therefore, the NGT is primarily concerned with

protection of the environment and also preservation of

the natural resources. As the specialized forum, the

NGT would be expected to take preventive action,

besides settling and adjudicating disputes and pass

orders on all environment related questions.

17.4 The NGT is not just an adjudicatory body but has

to perform wider functions in the nature of prevention,

remedy and amelioration. This aspect was specifically

flagged in the 186th Law Commission Report,

“The Environment Court, in our view, must
have power to frame schemes and monitor
them and also have power to modify the
schemes from time to time. If one looks at
the problems raised in several cases and
the directions issued by the Supreme
Court, it will be observed that such a
power is necessary to be vested in these
Courts. …. The Environment Court must be
able to provide an “environmental
solution” to grave problems like the one
mentioned above and unless it has power to
frame comprehensive schemes which will

Page 35 of 77
involve issuing directions to various
departments, the solution cannot be
implemented. Such a comprehensive
jurisdiction is now being exercised both
by the Supreme Court and High Courts. In
our view, the proposed Courts must have
similar powers. They will also have to
monitor the schemes till they are
successfully implemented on ground and, if
necessary, modify the schemes from time to
time.”

18. We have earlier discussed that the NGT is

empowered to carry out restitutive exercise for

compensating persons adversely affected by

environmental events. The larger discourse which

informs such functions is related to distributive and

corrective justice, as will be elaborated in later

paragraphs. Even in the absence of harm inflicted by

human agency, in a situation of a natural calamity, the

Tribunal will be required to devise a plan for

alleviating damage. An inquisitorial function is also

available for the Tribunal, within and without

adversarial significance. Importantly, many of these

functions do not require an active “dispute”, but the

formulation of decisions.

Page 36 of 77
19.1 With the constitution of the NGT, many cases

pending before the High Courts were transferred to the

NGT. Apprehending the possibility of conflict between

the High Courts and the NGT (in matters concerning

environment and the statutes mentioned in Schedule I of

the NGT Act), Justice Swatanter Kumar speaking for the

three Judge Bench in Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog

Sangathan vs. Union of India14, highlighted the NGT’s

role in the context, in the following words: –

“40. Keeping in view the provisions and
scheme of the National Green Tribunal Act,
2010 (for short “the NGT Act”)
particularly Sections 14, 29, 30 and
38(5), it can safely be concluded that the
environmental issues and matters covered
under the NGT Act, Schedule I should be
instituted and litigated before the
National Green Tribunal (for short “NGT”).
Such approach may be necessary to avoid
likelihood of conflict of orders between
the High Courts and NGT. Thus, in
unambiguous terms, we direct that all the
matters instituted after coming into force
of the NGT Act and which are covered under
the provisions of the NGT Act and/or in
Schedule I to the NGT Act shall stand
transferred and can be instituted only
before NGT. This will help in rendering
expeditious and specialised justice in the
field of environment to all concerned.

14 (2012) 8 SCC 326

Page 37 of 77

41. We find it imperative to place on
record a caution for consideration of the
courts of competent jurisdiction that the
cases filed and pending prior to coming
into force of the NGT Act, involving
questions of environmental laws and/or
relating to any of the seven statutes
specified in Schedule I of the NGT Act,
should also be dealt with by the
specialised tribunal, that is, NGT,
created under the provisions of the NGT
Act. The courts may be well advised to
direct transfer of such cases to NGT in
its discretion, as it will be in the
fitness of administration of justice.”

19.2 In the above case, this Court mandated transfer

of all cases concerning the statutes mentioned in

Schedule I of the NGT Act to the specialized forum as

otherwise there can be conflicts with the High Courts.

Notably, some of those cases were originally registered

suo motu by the Courts.

VI EXERCISE OF SUO MOTU POWER BY NGT

20. Let us now explore whether the NGT in discharge of

its functions, should also have suo motu power. The

specialized tribunal’s exercise of suo motu powers is

somewhat distinct from those exercised by the

constitutional Courts. The Supreme Court and High

Page 38 of 77
Courts can foray into any issues under their

constitutional mandate but the NGT cannot naturally

travel beyond its environmental domain in reference to

the scheduled enactments. However, As long as the

sphere of action is not breached, the NGT’s powers must

be understood to be of the widest amplitude.

21.1 Explaining the purpose for constituting the

special court to deal with environmental issues, in

Mantri Techzone (P) Ltd. vs. Forward Foundation15,

Justice S. Abdul Nazeer writing for the three Judge

Bench, made the following pertinent observations on the

status of the NGT:-

“40. The Tribunal has been established
under a constitutional mandate provided in
Schedule VII List I Entry 13 of the
Constitution of India, to implement the
decision taken at the United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development.
The Tribunal is a specialised judicial
body 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 the environment. The right to
healthy environment has been construed as
a part of the right to life under Article
21
by way of judicial pronouncements.

15 (2019) 18 SCC 494

Page 39 of 77
Therefore, the Tribunal has special
jurisdiction for enforcement of
environmental rights.”

21.2 As can be seen from the quoted passage, this Court

recognized that the NGT is set up under the

constitutional mandate in Entry 13 of List I in

Schedule VII to enforce Article 21 with respect to the

environment and in the context observed that the

Tribunal has special jurisdiction for enforcement of

environmental rights.

21.3 Elaborating further, in paragraphs 44-46, the

Supreme Court expressed that the interpretation that is

in favour of conferring jurisdiction should be

preferred rather than one taking away jurisdiction. It

was specifically noted that,

“46. … As stated supra the typical
nature of the Tribunal, its breadth of
powers as provided under the statutory
provisions of the Act as well as the
Scheduled enactments, cumulatively, leaves
no manner of doubt that the only tenable
interpretation to these provisions would
be to read the provisions broadly in
favour of cloaking the Tribunal with
effective authority. An interpretation
that is in favour of conferring

Page 40 of 77
jurisdiction should be preferred rather
than one taking away jurisdiction.”

21.4 Such being the wide contour of the NGT’s powers,

the exposition in Rajeev Suri vs. DDA16 was not to

constrict the suo motu powers of the NGT. To appreciate

the implication of the ratio in Rajeev Suri, it must be

noticed that it was in the specific context of ‘Merits

Review’ and the NGT transgressing beyond its

environmental mandate. This is why, one of us, Justice

A.M. Khanwilkar observed that,

“503. NGT is not a plenary body with
inherent powers to address concerns of a
residuary character. It is a statutory
body with limited mandate over
environmental matters as and when they
arise for its consideration. In a cause
before it, NGT cannot directly go on to
adjudicate on concerns of violation of
fundamental rights and once the contours
of a subject matter traverse the scope of
appeal from a grant of EC, the merits
review by tribunal cannot traverse beyond
the scope of jurisdiction vested in it by
the statute.”

21.5 Thus, the ratio in Rajeev Suri to the quoted

extent will not clash with the view propounded here as

16 2021 SCC Online SC 7.

Page 41 of 77
the exposition is not to allow any inherent power of

residuary character for the NGT. In its own domain, as

crystalized by the statute, the role of the NGT is

clearly discernible.

21.6 The need for an expert body with extensive

functions and the sources of inspiration behind it was

articulated in Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board v.

Prof. M. V. Nayudu (Retd.) and Ors. 17 where Justice M.

Jagannadha Rao speaking for a Division Bench referred to

a comparable court in Australia and noted the following,

“The Land and Environment Court of New
South Wales in Australia, established in
1980, could be the ideal. It is a superior
court of record and is composed of four
Judges and nine technical and conciliation
assessors. Its jurisdiction combines
appeal, judicial review and enforcement
functions. Such a composition in our
opinion is necessary and ideal in
environmental matters.”

The above would show that from the very inception,

the role of the NGT was not simply adjudicatory in the

nature of a lis but to perform equally vital roles

which are preventative, ameliorative or remedial in

17 (1999) 2 SCC 718

Page 42 of 77
nature. The functional capacity of the NGT was intended

to leverage wide powers to do full justice in its

environmental mandate.

VII. UNIQUENESS OF NGT VIS-A-VIS OTHER TRIBUNALS

22.1 While we see many tribunals functioning within

their specified domains, variances do exist in the

manner in which they are designed to function. The

statutory Tribunals were categorized to fall under

four subheads; Administrative Tribunals under Article

323A; Tribunals under Article 323B; Specialized sector

Tribunals and most prominently; Tribunals to safeguard

rights under Article 21. As already noted, the duties

of NGT brings it within the ambit of the fourth

category, creating a compelling proposition for

wielding much broader powers as delineated by the

statute.

22.2 The ideal was to create a fairly proactive and

responsive Institution which could step into varying

roles, as the situation demanded. Commenting on the

specialized and unique role of the NGT, Justice Ashok

Page 43 of 77
Bhushan in State of Meghalaya vs. All Dimasa Students

Union18, fittingly observed thus:-

“163. The object for which the said power
is given is not far to seek. To fulfil the
objective of the NGT Act, 2010, NGT has to
exercise a wide range of jurisdiction and
has to possess wide range of powers to do
justice in a given case. The power is
given to exercise for the benefit of those
who have right for clean environment which
right they have to establish before the
Tribunal. The power given to the Tribunal
is coupled with duty to exercise such
powers for achieving the objects. In this
regard reference is made to the judgment
of this Court in L. Hirday
Narain v. CIT [L. Hirday Narain v. CIT,
(1970) 2 SCC 355] , wherein this Court was
examining provision empowering authority
to do something. This Court laid down in
para 14: (SCC p. 359)
“14. The High Court observed that under
Section 35 of the Indian Income Tax Act,
1922, the jurisdiction of the Income Tax
Officer is discretionary. If thereby it is
intended that the Income Tax Officer has
discretion to exercise or not to exercise
the power to rectify, that view is in our
judgment erroneous. Section 35 enacts that
the Commissioner or Appellate Assistant
Commissioner or the Income Tax Officer may
rectify any mistake apparent from the
record. If a statute invests a public
officer with authority to do an act in a
specified set of circumstances, it is
imperative upon him to exercise his
authority in a manner appropriate to the
case when a party interested and having a
right to apply moves in that behalf and

18 (2019) 8 SCC 177

Page 44 of 77
circumstances for exercise of authority
are shown to exist. Even if the words used
in the statute are prima facie enabling,
the courts will readily infer a duty to
exercise power which is invested in aid of
enforcement of a right—public or private—
of a citizen.”

22.3 Reflecting on the expanded role of NGT unlike

other Tribunals, this Court so appositely observed

that the forum has a duty to do justice while

exercising “wide range of jurisdiction” and the “wide

range of powers”, given to it by the statute.

23. During the course of its functioning, the NGT has

been recognized as one of the most progressive

Tribunals in the world. This jurisprudential leap has

allowed our country to enter a rather exclusive group

of nations which have set up such institutions with

broad powers. To understand how the NGT is perceived

globally, we may usefully refer to the views of Chief

Justice Brian Preston of the Land and Environment

Court of NSW Australia,

“The NGT is an example of a specialized
court to better achieve the goals of
ensuring access to justice, upholding the

Page 45 of 77
rule of law and promoting good
governance.”19

VIII. THE SUI GENERIS ROLE OF NGT

24.1 The NGT being one of its own kind of forum,

commends us to consider the concept of a sui generis

role, for the institution. The structure of Sui generis

institutions was explained in Paramjit Kaur Vs. State

of Punjab20, wherein Justice S. Saghir Ahmad spoke thus

for a Division Bench,

“14. The concept of sui generis is applied
quite often with reference to resolution
of disputes in the context of
international law. When the conventions
formulated by compacting nations do not
cover any area territorially or any
subject topically, then the body to which
such power to arbiter is entrusted acts
sui generis, that is, on its own and not
under any law.”

24.2 In DG NHAI vs. Aam Aadmi Lokmanch21, Justice S.

Ravindra Bhat commenting on the sui generis role of the

NGT, so appropriately stated as follows:-

19 GILL, G. (2020). Mapping the Power Struggles of the National Green
Tribunal of India: The Rise and Fall? Asian Journal of Law and Society, 7(1),
85-126.

20 (1999) 2 SCC 131
21 2020 SCC Online SC 572

Page 46 of 77
“38. A conjoint reading of Sections 14, 15
and the Schedules would lead one to infer
that the NGT has circumscribed
jurisdiction to deal with, adjudicate, and
wherever needed, direct measures such as
payment of compensation, or make
restitutionary directions in cases where
the violation (i.e. harm caused due to
pollution or exposure to hazards, etc.)
are the result of infraction of any
enactment listed in the first schedule.
Yet, that, interpretation, in the opinion
of this court, is not warranted.

   ****    ****          ****        ****
    ****    ****         ****       ****

76. The power and jurisdiction of the NGT
under Sections 15(1)(b) and (c) are not
restitutionary, in the sense of restoring
the environment to the position it was
before the practise impugned, or before
the incident occurred. The NGT’s
jurisdiction in one sense is a remedial
one, based on a reflexive exercise of its
powers. In another sense, based on
the nature of the abusive practice, its
powers can also be preventive.

77. As a quasi-judicial body exercising
both appellate jurisdiction over
regulatory bodies’ orders and directions
(under Section 16) and its original
jurisdiction under Sections 14, 15 and 17
of the NGT Act, the tribunal, based on the
cases and applications made before it, is
an expert regulatory body. Its personnel
include technically qualified and
experienced members. The powers it
exercises and directions it can
potentially issue, impact not merely those
before it, but also state agencies and
state departments whose views are heard,
after which general directions to prevent

Page 47 of 77
the future occurrence of incidents that
impact the environment, are issued.”

24.3 In that case, this Court repelled the argument for

a restricted jurisdiction for the NGT, and fittingly

observed in paragraph 76 that the powers conferred on

the NGT are both reflexive and preventive and the role

of the NGT was recognized in paragraph 77 as “an expert

regulatory body”, which can issue general directions

also albeit within the statutory framework.

24.4 The above discussion would advise us to say that

the NGT was conceived as a specialized forum not only

as a like substitute for a civil court but more

importantly to take over all the environment related

cases from the High Courts and the Supreme Court. Many

of those cases transferred to the NGT, emanated in the

superior courts and it would be appropriate thus to

assume that similar power to initiate suo motu

proceedings should also be available with the NGT.

24.5 The NGT is a Tribunal with sui generis

characteristic, with the special and all-encompassing

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jurisdiction to protect the environment. Besides its

adjudicatory role as an appellate authority, it is also

conferred with the responsibility to discharge role of

supervisory body and to decide substantial questions

relating to the environment. The necessity of having a

specialized body, with the expertise to handle multi-

dimensional environmental issues allows for an all-

encompassing framework for environmental justice. The

technical expertise that may be required to address

evolving environmental concerns would definitely

require a flexible institutional mechanism for its

effective exercise.

IX. AUTHORITY WITH SELF-ACTIVATING CAPABILITY

25.1 Given the multifarious role envisaged for the NGT

and the purposive interpretation which ought to be

given to the statutory provisions, it would be fitting

to regard the NGT as having the mechanism to set in

motion all necessary functions within its domain and

this, as would follow from the discussion below, should

necessarily clothe it with the authority to take suo

Page 49 of 77
motu cognizance of matters, for effective discharge of

its mandate.

25.2 The analysis for this segment should commence

with Section 14 of the NGT Act and the same being of

great relevance is being extracted hereunder,

“ 14. Tribunal to settle disputes. – (1)
The Tribunal shall have the jurisdiction
over all civil cases where a substantial
question relating to environment
(including enforcement of any legal right
relating to environment), is involved and
such question arises out of the
implementation of the enactments specified
in Schedule I.

(2) The Tribunal shall hear the disputes
arising from the questions referred to in
sub-section (1) and settle such disputes
and pass order thereon.

(3) No application for adjudication of
dispute under this section shall be
entertained by the Tribunal unless it is
made within a period of six months from
the date on which the cause of action for
such dispute first arose: Provided that
the Tribunal may, if it is satisfied that
the applicant was prevented by sufficient
cause from filing the application within
the said period, allow it to be filed
within a further period not exceeding
sixty days.”

25.3 The Section 14(1) of the NGT Act deals with

jurisdiction, and the jurisdictional provision

Page 50 of 77
conspicuously omits to specify that an application is

necessary to trigger the NGT into action. In

situations where the three prerequisites of Section

14(1) i.e., Civil cases; involvement of substantial

question of environment; and implementation of the

enactments in Schedule I are satisfied, the

jurisdiction and power of the NGT gets activated. On

these material aspects, the NGT is not required to be

triggered into action by an aggrieved or interested

party alone. It would therefore be logical to

conclude that the exercise of power by the NGT is not

circumscribed by receipt of application. When

substantial questions relating to the environment

arise and the issue is civil in nature and those

relate to the enactments in Schedule I of the Act, the

NGT in our opinion even in the absence of an

application, can self-ignite action either towards

amelioration or towards prevention of harm.

25.4 In the same spirit, we find merit in the

arguments that Section 14(1) exists as a standalone

feature, not constricted by the operational mechanism

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of the subsequent subsections. The sub Section (2) of

Section 14 functions as a corollary and comes into

play when a dispute arises from the questions referred

to in Section 14(1). Likewise sub Section (3)

thereafter, refers to the period of limitation

concerning applications, when they are addressed to

the NGT. Where adjudication is involved, the

adjudicatory function under Section 14(2) comes into

play. When it is a case warranting NGT’s

intervention, or may be a situation calling for

decisions to meet certain exigencies, the functions

under Section 14(1) can be undertaken and those may

not involve any formal application or an adjudicatory

process. However, the later provisions may not work

in similar fashion. Therefore, care must be taken to

ensure unrestricted discharge of the responsibilities

under Section 14(1) and that wide arena of NGT’s

functioning.

25.5 The other pertinent provisions relating to,

inter-alia, jurisdiction, interim orders, payment of

compensation and review, do not require any

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application or appeal, for the NGT to pass necessary

orders. These crucial powers are expected to be

exercised by the NGT, would logically suggest that the

action/orders of the NGT need not always involve any

application or appeal. To hold otherwise would not

only reduce its effectiveness but would also defeat

the legal mandate given to the forum.

25.6 It may also be relevant to bear in mind that

while dealing with contested cases, the NGT is

required to pass “award” and “order” and the statute

repeatedly uses the word “decision”. Therefore, it is

appropriate to correlate the word “decision” to the

NGT, in its non-adversarial or inquisitorial role, as

was suggested by the Law Commission and recognized in

DG, NHAI (supra).

25.7 The duty to safeguard Article 21 rights cannot

stand on a narrow compass of interpretation.

Procedural provisions must be allowed to fall in step

with the substantive rights that are invoked in the

environmental domain, in larger public interest. The

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specialized forum is bestowed with the responsibility

to ensure protection of the environment. To be

effective in its domain, we need to ascribe to the NGT

a public responsibility to initiate action when

required, to protect the substantive right of a clean

environment and the procedural law should not be

obstructive in its application. In the context,

Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer speaking for a Division

Bench in State of Punjab & Anr. Vs. Shamlal Murari &

Anr.22 has so correctly prioritized the substantive

rights and observed succinctly,

“8. …We must always remember that
processual law is not to be a tyrant but
a servant, not an obstruction but an aid
to justice. It has been wisely observed
that procedural prescriptions are the
handmaid and not the mistress, a
lubricant, not a resistant in the
administration of justice.”

25.8 While discussing the NGT’s power and

responsibility, it is essential to keep in mind the

Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration which speaks of

three fundamental rights i.e., access to information,

22 (1976) 1 SCC 719

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access to public participation and access to justice,

as key pillars of environmental governance. Access to

justice, may however be curtailed by illiteracy, lack

of mobility, poverty or even the lack of technical

knowledge on the part of citizens. Another deterrence

is the likelihood of polluters/violators being powerful

entities with adequate wherewithal to skirt

regulations. Thus, it may not always be feasible for

individuals to knock on the doors of the Tribunal, and

NGT in such exigencies must not be made dysfunctional.

X. THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE

26.1 Tracing the origin of the Precautionary Principle,

Scott Lafranchi in his treatise23 has expounded on the

proactive role of the authorities in the following

passage: –

“Many consider the German development of
Vorsorgeprinzip to signify the true
creation of the precautionary principle,
in light of the attention it focuses on
“long term planning to avoid damage to the
environment, early detection of dangers to
health and environment through
23 Scott LaFranchi, Surveying the Precautionary Principle’s Ongoing Global
Development: The Evolution of an Emergent Environmental Management Tool, 32
B.C. Envtl. Aff. L. Rev. 679 (2005)

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comprehensive research, and acting in
advance of conclusive scientific evidence
of harm.”16 The precautionary foundation
of Vorsorgeprinzip has been described as
an “action principle” that holds public
authorities responsible for protecting the
natural foundations of life and preserving
the physical world for the present and
future generations, and “‘can therefore be
used to counter the short-termism endemic
in all democratic, consumption oriented
societies.’”

26.2 The origin of the Precautionary Principle itself

is rooted as an institutional obligation, by holding

them primarily responsible for the environmental

concerns and remedies.

26.3 As earlier seen, S.20 of the NGT Act which

includes the term “decision”, in addition to “order”

and “award”, also require the Tribunal to apply the

‘Precautionary Principle’ and the statutory mandate

being relevant is extracted: –

“20. Tribunal to apply certain principles.

– The Tribunal shall, while passing any
order or decisions or award, apply the
principles of sustainable development, the
precautionary principle and the polluter
pays principle.”

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26.4 The principle set out above must apply in the

widest amplitude to ensure that it is not only resorted

to for adjudicatory purposes but also for other

‘decisions’ or ‘orders’ to governmental authorities or

polluters, when they fail to “to anticipate, prevent

and attack the causes of environmental degradation”24.

Two aspects must therefore be emphasized i.e. that the

Tribunal is itself required to carry out preventive and

protective measures, as well as hold governmental and

private authorities accountable for failing to uphold

environmental interests. Thus, a narrow interpretation

for NGT’s powers should be eschewed to adopt one which

allows for full flow of the forum’s power within the

environmental domain.

26.5 It is not only a matter of rhetoric that the

Tribunal is to remain ever vigilant, but an important

legal onus is cast upon it to act with promptitude to

deal with environmental exigencies. The responsibility

is not just to resolve legal ambiguities but to arrive

24 Vellore Citizens (supra), S. Jagannathan v. Union of India (1997) 2 SCC
87, Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board v. C Kenchappa and Ors
(2006) 6 SCC 371.

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at a reasoned and fair result for environmental

problems which are adversarial as well as non-

adversarial. It would be apposite here to refer to

Justice Benjamin Cardozo, of the United States Supreme

Court, who in his seminal treatise, ‘The Nature of the

Judicial Process’, stated thus,

“It is true that codes and statutes do
not render the judge superfluous, nor his
work perfunctory and mechanical. There are
gaps to be filled. There are doubts and
ambiguities to be cleared. There are
hardships and wrongs to be mitigated if
not avoided.”

The above could be a pointer towards the preemptive

functions of the NGT as a sui generis body.

XI. ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND ENVIROMENTAL EQUITY

27.1 The conceptual frameworks of environmental justice

and equity should merit consideration vis-à-vis the

NGT’s domain and how its functioning and decisions can

have wide implications in socio-economic dimensions of

people at large. The concept of environmental justice is

a trifecta of distributive justice, procedural justice

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and justice as recognition.25 Environmental equity as a

developing concept has focused on the disproportionate

implications of environmental harms on the economically

or socially marginalized groups. The concerns of human

rights and environmental degradation overlap under this

umbrella term, to highlight the human element, apart

from economic and environmental ramifications.

Environmental equity thus stands to ensure a balanced

distribution of environmental risks as well as

protections, including application of sustainable

development principles.

27.2 Voicing concerns about the disproportionate harm

for the poor segments, Lois J. Schiffer (then Assistant

Attorney General, Environment & Natural Resources

Division (ENRD), U.S. Department of Justice) and Timothy

J. Dowling (then Attorney at ENRD) in their Reflections

on the Role of the Courts in Environmental Law, wrote

the following evocative passage on the concept of

environmental justice,

25 Schlosberg D, Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and
Nature (Oxford University Press 2009)

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“Environmental Justice, which focuses on
whether minorities and low-income people
bear a disproportionate burden of exposure
to environmental harms and any resulting
health effects. In the past ten to fifteen
years, this issue has crystallized a
grass-roots movement that combines civil
rights issues with environmental issues,
with a goal of achieving “environmental
justice” or “environmental equity,” which
is understood to mean the fair
distribution of environmental risks and
protection from environmental harms.”26

27.3 There is also a need to focus on the

interconnection between principles of procedural justice

and distributive justice. The concern is to create a

system which is affirmative enough to balance the

disproportionate wielding of power between polluters and

affected people.

“Environmental justice starts with
distributive justice, or more accurately,
distributive injustice. The rich and powerful
derive the most benefit while suffering the
least harm from environmentally harmful
activities; conversely, the poor and
minorities derive the least benefit but suffer
the most harm.Further, those who benefit cause
harm to the places where people “live, work,
play, and go to school,” whereas the people
who reside there do little or nothing to harm
their community.” 27
26 Schiffer, L. J., & Dowling, T. J. (1997). Reflections On The Role Of The
Courts In Environmental Law. Environmental Law, 27(2), 327–342.
27 Jeff Todd, A “Sense of Equity” in Environmental Justice Litigation, 44
HARV. ENVTL. L. REV. 169, 193 (2020).

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When substantive justice is elusive for a large

segment, disengaging with substantive rights at the very

altar, for a perceived procedural lacuna, would surely

bring in a process, which furthers inequality, both

economic and social. An “equal footing” conception may

not therefore be feasible to adequately address the

asymmetrical relationship between the polluters and

those affected by their actions. Instead, a recognition

of the historical experience of marginalized classes of

persons while accessing and effectively using the legal

system, will allow for necessary appreciation of social

realities and balancing the arm of justice.

27.4 The law must be interpreted in such a manner as to

foster further development of existing legal concepts by

incorporating this sense of equity. The issues which

this Court has had the occasion to examine have

highlighted the limitations of the mechanisms to reach

to the heart of environmental concerns. This Court has

previously moulded the jurisdictional jurisprudence in

favour of larger societal interest, whether that be in

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the form of ‘Public Interest Litigation’ or widening the

scope of locus standi.

           “The     identification      of     potential
           environmental    justice   issues   is   very
           important    in     determining    how    our
           enforcement    efforts    are   working    in

minority and low-income communities, and
whether they are comparable to the
enforcement efforts in other communities.”
28

27.5 In the backdrop of the above weighty concerns,

this Court should advert to what Schiffer and Dowling

have stated on the ‘Blindfold of Lady Justice’, which

symbolizes “the ideal of administering equal justice to

everyone who comes to our Courts, regardless of race,

creed, or economic class.”29 The relevance of this

concept is particularly apposite when we consider the

inability of most marginalized communities, to access

the legal machinery.

IX. ENVIRONMENTAL JURISPRUDENCE IN INDIA

28.1 Proceeding with the above understating, we can

comfortably place the NGT within the rubric of the

28 Supra Note 26.

29 Ibid

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larger environmental jurisprudence which has been

informing this unique institution. The role of this

Court in establishing the legal connect between matters

of environmental concern and fundamental rights of

citizens, has produced much academic literature.

Amongst others, Armin Rosencranz and Shyam Divan in

their writing- Environmental Law And Policy In India,

have noted that the field of laws pertaining to

environmental concerns has been a fairly fertile ground

for judicial innovations by this Court; moving the

concept of Environmental law from the realm of torts to

interlink it with fundamental rights30, liberalizing the

concept of locus standi in environmental matters,

exercising suo motu powers to reign in polluters, using

expert committees to monitor implementation of Court

orders, etc.31

28.2 By expanding the scope of Articles 21, 32, 48A,

51A(g), this Court has guaranteed the right to a
30 Rural Litigation And Entitlement Kendra & Ors V. State Of U. P. & Ors
AIR 1985 SC 652, Charan Lal Sahu Vs. Union of India (1990) 1 SCC 613,
Virender Gaur Vs. State of Haryana (1995) 2 SCC 577
31 See M.A.A. Baig, Environmental Law And Justice(1996). Domenico Amirante,
Environmental Courts In Comparative Perspective: Preliminary Reflections On
The National Green Tribunal Of India (2012). M.K. Ramesh, Environmental
Justice: Courts And Beyond, Indian Jo. Of Envtl. L. 20(2002).

Page 63 of 77
pollution free environment for a holistic existence.32

Most crucially, the expansion of Right to Life under

Article 21 by this Court has become a touchstone to

determine many environmental concerns. In Subhash Kumar

Vs. State of Bihar, this Court explicitly held the

following,

“Right to life is a fundamental right
under Article 21 of the Constitution and
it includes the right of enjoyment of
pollution free water and air for full
enjoyment of life.”33

28.3 Adopting international principles and moulding

them to Indian realities also became a focal concern,

given the lacunae in regimes which may be exploited by

those who may not have much concern for environmental

degradation. Creation of the ‘Absolute Liability
34
Principle’ by this Court is a well recognized

testament for this. It would thus be appropriate to

state that much of the principles, institutions and

32 Maheshwara Swamy, N. Law Relating to Environmental Pollution and
Protection. India, Thompson Reuters, Vol.I, Ed.5.
33 (1991) 1 SCC 74.

34 M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, 1987 SCC (1) 395.

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mechanisms in this sphere have been created, on account

of this Court’s initiative.

“The constitutionally-protected
fundamental right to life and liberty has
been extended through judicial creativity
to cover unarticulated but implicit rights
such as the right to a wholesome
environment. . . .The right was recognized
as part of the right to life in
1991. . . . The court has since fleshed
out the right to a wholesome environment
by integrating into Indian environmental
jurisprudence not just established but
even nascent principles of international
environmental law.”35

28.4 It has been noted that the Supreme Court adopted

the role of an “amicus environment” by threading

together human rights and environmental concerns,

resultingly developing a sui generis environmental

discourse.36 There were both procedural and substantive

innovations made, by entertaining PIL petitions,

seeking remedies, including guidelines and directions

in the absence of legislation. Many of the landmark

cases which hold the fort to this day, were in

recognition of the ‘at risk’ nature of some
35 Rajamani, Lavanya. 2007. Public Interest Environmental Litigation in
India: Exploring Issues of Access, Participation, Equity, Effectiveness and
Sustainability. Journal of Environmental Law
36 Supra, Note 19.

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populations. The creation of the NGT itself was due in

large part to the need expressed by this Court for such

a forum.37

28.5 Justice T.S. Doabia in Environmental & Pollution

Laws in India, has highlighted the larger societal

concerns which have informed this Court’s deliberation

when dealing with environmental matters,

“The Supreme Court of India, in its
interpretation of Article 21 of the
Constitution of India, has facilitated the
emergence of an environmental
jurisprudence in India, while also
strengthening human rights jurisprudence.
…The Courts have successfully isolated
specific environmental law principles upon
the interpretation of Indian statutes and
the Constitution, combined with a liberal
view towards ensuring social justice and
the protection of human rights. The
principles have often found reflection in
the Constitution in some form, and are
usually justified even when not explicitly
mentioned in the statute concerned.” 38

28.6 Environmental jurisprudence in India has

therefore been intrinsic to advancing a democratic,

37 M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India (1986) 2 SCC 176, Indian Council for
Environmental-Legal Action v. Union of India (1996) 3 SCC 212, A.P. Pollution
Control Board vs. M.V. Nayudu
(1999) 2 SCC 718, A.P. Pollution Control Board
II vs. M.V. Nayudu
(2001) 2 SCC 62.

38 Justice T.S. Doabia, Environmental & Pollution Laws in India, 3rd Ed.,
Vol 2 (2017).

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welfare oriented legal regime. Issues affecting the

ecology and the environment must have a broad

perspective and should have a society centric approach.

Furthermore, the very nature of ecological and

environmental issues has the propensity for rapid

deterioration. Many such sensitive matters, as has been

noted, stood transferred to the NGT, with the aim that

those would be dealt with expediently with the required

technical expertise and legal sophistication. The

proactiveness of the superior Court was surely expected

to be seen in the Tribunal’s approach.

28.7 Analyzing the concept of the functioning of the

NGT and its role within the broader concept of the

environmental rule of law, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud

speaking for a three judges Bench in H.P. Bus Stand

Management & Development Authority vs. Central

Empowered Committee39 so succinctly said that,

“40. The environmental rule of law, at a
certain level, is a facet of the concept
of the rule of law. But it includes
specific features that are unique to
environmental governance, features which

39 (2021) 4 SCC 309

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are sui generis. The environmental rule of
law seeks to create essential tools –
conceptual, procedural and institutional
to bring structure to the discourse on
environmental protection. It does so to
enhance our understanding of environmental
challenges – of how they have been shaped
by humanity’s interface with nature in the
past, how they continue to be affected by
its engagement with nature in the present
and the prospects for the future, if we
were not to radically alter the course of
destruction which humanity’s actions have
charted. The environmental rule of law
seeks to facilitate a multi– disciplinary
analysis of the nature and consequences of
carbon footprints and in doing so it
brings a shared understanding between
science, regulatory decisions and policy
perspectives in the field of environmental
protection. It recognizes that the ‘law’
element in the environmental rule of law
does not make the concept peculiarly the
preserve of lawyers and judges. On the
contrary, it seeks to draw within the fold
all stakeholders in formulating strategies
to deal with current challenges posed by
environmental degradation, climate change
and the destruction of habitats. The
environmental rule of law seeks a unified
understanding of these concepts.”

28.8 It is this environmental rule of law that has

been encapsulated with the NGT’s creation at this

Court’s behest. Professor Domenico Amirante in a

comparative analysis of similar bodies across the

world, notes that,

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“With reference to the judicial
enforcement of environmental law – which
as we have seen should be considered an
important condition not only for
sustainable development but also for the
sustainability of the legal environmental
order – the National Green Tribunal of
India seems to be the most comprehensive
and promising among the specialized
environmental Courts created in Asia over
the last decade.” 40

The NGT therefore, is the institutionalization of

the developments made by this Court in the field of

environment law. These progressive steps have allowed

it to inherit a very broad conception of environmental

concerns. Its functions therefore, must not be viewed

in a cribbed manner, which detracts from the progress

already made in the Indian environmental jurisprudence.

X. CONCLUSION:

29. Before we set out our conclusion, we acknowledge

the able contribution of Mr. Anand Grover as amicus

curiae, assisted by Ms. Astha Sharma, AOR who were

requested to assist the Court on the central issue of

suo motu jurisdiction of NGT.

40Domenico Amirante, Environmental Courts in Comparative Perspective:
Preliminary Reflections on the National Green Tribunal of India, 29 Pace
Envtl. L. Rev. 441 (2012)

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30. The NGT Act, when read as a whole, gives much

leeway to the NGT to go beyond a mere adjudicatory

role. The Parliament’s intention is clearly discernible

to create a multifunctional body, with the capacity to

provide redressal for environmental exigencies.

Accordingly, the principles of environmental justice

and environmental equity must be explicitly

acknowledged as pivotal threads of the NGT’s fabric.

The NGT must be seen as a sui generis institution and

not unus multorum, and its special and exclusive role

to foster public interest in the area of environmental

domain delineated in the enactment of 2010 must

necessarily receive legal recognition of this Court.

31. The environmental impacts on climate change are

gaining increasing visibility in the shape of uncertain

rains, species extinction, loss of natural habitat and

so on. These also have the propensity to diminish

fresh water resources, reduce agricultural yields and

impact public health, particularly in the cities. The

flooding and erosion in riverine and coastal areas are

matters of serious concern. Governmental assessment of

Page 70 of 77
India’s increased vulnerability to such changes in the

near future also exists41 with many countries declaring

climate emergencies and many others being urged to

follow suit42.

32. Therefore, the nature of ecological imbalance which

is visible even in our own times may cascade, and the

unforeseen injustice of the future may not be capable of

being handled within the frontiers set forth today. The

long term and very often irreparable environmental

damage which are expected to be arrested by the NGT,

urge this Court to advert to what is termed as the

‘Seventh Generation’ sustainability principle, or the

‘Great Law of the Iroquois’ (as it originates from the

Iroquois Tribe) which requires all decision making to

withstand for the benefit of seven generations down the

line.

41 Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment, Climate Change and India: A
4X4 Assessment – A sectoral and regional analysis for 2030s, Ministry of
Environment and Forests, Government of India, 16 November 2010

42 Secretary-General’s Remarks at the Climate Ambition Summit. United
Nations. United Nations, December 12, 2020.

Page 71 of 77

33. It is vital for the wellbeing of the nation and its

people, to have a flexible mechanism to address all

issues pertaining to environmental damage and resultant

climate change so that we can leave behind a better

environmental legacy, for our children, and the

generations thereafter.

34. In circumstances where adverse environmental impact

may be egregious, but the community affected is unable

to effectively get the machinery into action, a forum

created specifically to address such concerns should

surely be expected to move with expediency, and of its

own accord. The potentiality of disproportionate harm

imposes a higher obligation on authorities to preserve

rights which may be waylaid due to such restrictive

access. It is also noteworthy that the “global impacts

of climate change will fall disproportionately on

minority and low-income communities”.43 Thus, an

affirmative role, beyond mere adjudication at the

instance of applicant, is certainly required for serving

the ends of environmental justice, as the statute itself

43 Supra Note 23.

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requires of the NGT. We cannot validate an argument

which furthers uncertainty to justify the role of a

spectator, if not inaction, and would most assuredly

result in injustice.

35. The NGT, with the distinct role envisaged for it,

can hardly afford to remain a mute spectator when no-one

knocks on its door. The forum itself has correctly

identified the need for collective stratagem for

addressing environmental concerns. Such a society

centric approach must be allowed to work within the

established safety valves of the principles of natural

justice and appeal to the Supreme Court. The hands-off

mode for the NGT, when faced with exigencies requiring

immediate and effective response, would debilitate the

forum from discharging its responsibility and this must

be ruled out in the interest of justice.

36. It would be procedural hairsplitting to argue (as it

has been) that the NGT could act upon a letter being

written to it, but learning about an environmental

exigency through any other means cannot trigger the NGT

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into action. To endorse such an approach would surely be

rendering the forum procedurally shackled or

incapacitated.

37. When the Registry of the NGT does indeed receive a

communication or letter, including matters published in

media, it may cause to initiate suo motu action by

inviting attention of NGT to such matters in the form of

office report. Such circumstances would however require

a notice to be given to the sender of the communication

or author of the news item, as the case may be, to

assist the NGT in the course of hearing and to

substantiate the factual matters. It must also be said

that the exercise of suo motu jurisdiction does not mean

eschewing with the principles of natural justice and

fair play. In other words, the party likely to be

affected should be afforded due opportunity to present

their side, before suffering adverse orders.

38. One could admit to the argument of danger of suo

motu jurisdiction, if the NGT was acting outside its

domain. But when it is legitimately working within the

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contours of its statutory mandate and with procedurals

safeguards clarified above in play, the nature of the

trigger itself viz. a letter or a ‘suo motu’ initiation,

cannot be the basis to curtail the role and

responsibility of the specialized forum.

39. Institutions which are often addressing urgent

concerns gain little from procedural nitpicking, which

are unwarranted in the face of both the statutory spirit

and the evolving nature of environmental degradation.

Not merely should a procedure exist but it must be

meaningfully effective to address such concerns. The

role of such an institution cannot be mechanical or

ornamental. We must therefore adopt an interpretation

which sustains the spirit of public good and not render

the environmental watchdog of our country toothless and

ineffective.

40. Let us now hark back to the dialogues of the two

protagonists, in Waiting for Godot, the play written by

Samuel Beckett with which, we started this judgment. At

the end of the deliberations, we find ourselves saying

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that the National Green Tribunal must act, if the

exigencies so demand, without indefinitely waiting for

the metaphorical Godot to knock on its portal. The

preceding discussion advises us to answer the pointed

question in the affirmative. It is accordingly declared

that the NGT is vested with suo motu power in discharge

of its functions under the NGT Act.

41. Having answered the common legal issue involved in

all these cases regarding the suo motu jurisdiction of

NGT, we direct delinking of these cases for now being

heard separately on merits. Indeed, if the cases(s)

emanate from same/common order of NGT, such case(s) be

heard together. Registry may do the needful and post

the matters on 25.10.2021 for direction and fixing date

of hearing, before the Bench presided over by one of us

(Justice A.M. Khanwilkar). For the purpose of further

hearing, the respective cases shall not be treated as

part-heard before this Bench.

…………………………………….J.

[A.M. KHANWILKAR]

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…………………………………………J.

[HRISHIKESH ROY]

………………………………………J.

[C.T. RAVIKUMAR]
NEW DELHI
OCTOBER 7, 2021

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