New Delhi: The Union cabinet has approved a draft legislation to establish a national green tribunal that would judge disputes related to the environment.
An official of the ministry of environment and forests said the cabinet approved the National Green Tribunal Bill, 2009, during its Thursday evening meeting. It is yet to be decided when the draft legislation will be tabled in Parliament, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Once the Bill is enacted, it will effectively replace government bodies such as the National Environment Appellate Authority (Neaa). The draft legislation was prepared after India’s Law Commission recommended setting up of environmental courts in September 2003.
The tribunal, which will have the same powers as a civil court, will subsume various state-level authorities that address environmental issues as well as committees created by the Supreme Court for that purpose. Judgements handed by the tribunal could only be challenged in the country’s apex court.
“The proposal of a dedicated environmental court is undoubtedly positive because our current system (other civil courts) hardly have any time and are already dealing with hundreds of cases,” said Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer with the Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment, a public interest law group.
“But what is key is who would be the people filling up these posts? If the government is willing to make it work and not (fill the tribunal with) defunct members, then it is worth it,” Dutta said.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had earlier told Mint in an interview that the tribunal will hear all disputes relating to the Water Act of 1974, the Water Cess Act of 1977, the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, the Air Act, 1981, the Environment Protection Act of 1986, the Public Liability Insurance Act of 1991 and the Biological Diversity Act of 2002.
This is not the first time the government has proposed or enacted laws to address environmental grievances. The National Environment Tribunal (NET) Act, 1995, and the Neaa Act, 1997, were enacted but had a limited jurisdiction and effect.
NET addressed concerns arising out of accidents related to hazardous substances, while Neaa dealt with appeals against environmental clearances for projects.
The Delhi high court on 11 February had reprimanded the ministry of environment and forests for not fully constituting Neaa despite clear directions from the court at least three years ago. The high court also criticized Neaa’s track record of dismissing all appeals in its 11-year-old existence.
“It (Neaa) is at present neither an effective nor an independent mechanism for redressing the grievance of the public in relation to the environment clearances granted by the state or Central government,” the court had then said.
Neaa has been without a chairperson for at least eight years and the post of a vice-chairperson has been vacant for three years.