Can the National Green Tribunal (NGT) be expected to wait for somebody to file an application before it when immediate action is required to be taken on an environment related issue, the Supreme Court observed on Wednesday while examining if the green panel has the power to take suo motu cognisance of a matter. The apex court, which reserved its verdict on the issue, said the tribunal has to exercise the power to do restitutive justice as well.
Can the NGT be expected to await a triggering by a third party when the action that is required is an immediate action. So, can there be a situation of self cognisance instead of suo motu? Because, if you wait for an application, it may be filed late," a bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar said. "What is required to be done today, they will have to do it after two days which might cause further deterioration, said the bench, also comprising Justices Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar.
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for one of the applicants, said the idea is to protect the environment and not allow it to deteriorate. He said if the tribunal is clear about what has happened and the factual position is absolutely clear then the question is why should anyone allow the environment to deteriorate further.
Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who also argued in the matter, referred to a recent report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which highlighted the ill-effects of global warming. He said that in such a situation where the world is suffering due to climate change, an expert body dealing with environmental issues should not be restrained from exercising powers, waiting for people to approach it with application.
The bench, while reserving its verdict on the issue of whether the NGT has power to take suo motu cognisance of a matter, said the parties can file their written submissions, if any, within a week. The top court had on Tuesday said that NGT is an umbrella authority created to ensure that concerned authorities under the respective enactments work in tandem for the protection and cause of environment.
On September 2, the Centre had told the apex court that NGT does not have the power to take cognisance of a matter on its own as it is not there in the statute. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had told the bench that procedural aspects cannot tie up the powers and jurisdiction of the peculiar tribunal which has been constituted to deal with environmental matters.
It is our respectful submission that the suo motu power is not there. However, to stretch it to the extent of saying that any letter, any application etc also can't be entertained will be stretching it too far, the counsel appearing for the ministry had told the apex court. The bench was hearing a batch of petitions in which issue regarding whether the NGT has power to take suo motu cognisance of a matter has cropped up.
In one of these matters, the NGT had earlier taken suo motu cognisance on the issue pertaining to solid waste management in Maharashtra and imposed cost of Rs 5 crore on the municipal corporation. The apex court was earlier told that the Bombay High Court was already monitoring the issue of solid waste management in Maharashtra and the NGT should not have taken cognisance on its own in the matter.