India's National Green Tribunal: Human Rights and the Merits of an Environmental Court

Date01 June 2016
Indias National Green Tribunal:
Human Rights and the Merits
of an Environmental Court
by Navya Jannu
Navya Jannu is in her nal year of the B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) program at Jindal Global Law School in Sonipat, Haryana, India.
India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) wa s estab-
lished by statute in October 2010 “ for eective and
expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmen-
tal protection and con servation of forests a nd other nat-
ural resources including enforcement of any legal right
relating to environment and giving relief a nd compensa-
tion for dama ges to persons a nd property and for matters
connected therewit h or incidental thereto.”1 e intent
was to create a “specialized body equipped with nec es-
sary expertise to handle environmental disputes involv-
ing multi-disciplinar y is sues.”2 To th is end, t he guiding
light for the NGT has moved beyond the connes of
India’s Civil Procedure Code of 1908 and into the realms
of “natural justice.”3
e laudable goal underlying the NGT’s grant of juris-
diction was joined by the more practical aspiration of
reducing the burden of litigation in higher courts.4 Five
years and a burgeoning bureaucratic structure later (includ-
ing no fewer than ve places for the Tribunal’s sitting),
the NGT has evolved into a focus of contention bet ween
the executive and judiciary in India,5 been called a “power-
hungry institution that has fa iled [its] purpose,”6 and been
criticized for its “unrealistic judgments.”7
While mitigating the growing environmental crisis
is a rguably the most important issue in the world today,
particularly for developing countries that are especially
vulnerable to its impacts, it is equally true that in these
countries environmental regulation is often a theater of
1. National Green Tribunal, History,
aspx (last visited Dec. 9, 2015).
2. Id.
3. National Green Tribunal Act (2010), §19.
4. Lok Sabha Debates,     (Apr. 20, 2010), (last vis-
ited Dec. 11, 2015); see Geetanjoy Sahu & Armin Rosencranz, Assessing the
, 5 J. I L.  S’ 191, 192
5. Id. e Tribunal sits at Bhopal, Chennai, Kolkata, New Delhi, and Pune.
6.   , CD., http:// udgments/
(last visited Dec. 9, 2015).
7. Yukti Choudhary,  , D  E, Nov. 30, 2014,
disagreements—inchoate legislation, undisciplined judicial
intervention, and insucient community engagement.8
India is a key case study in this regard. e evolution of the
NGT as an institutionalized reg ulatory body raises several
questions about the interfaces among constitutional clar-
ity, democratic values, administrative theory, and environ-
mental sensibilities.
With the Indian executive’s increasing abnegation of its
statutory and traditional role in protecting the environ-
ment, the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court of India,
has come to the fore as a “champion for the environment.9
e NGT’s existence represents this courageous pushing
against constitutional boundaries that is at the root of the
owering environmental law jurisprudence in the coun-
try.10 At times, this is taken to be a “rhetorical smokescreen
for judicial intervention”11 and overreaching in a range of
issues, not limited to environmental governance,12 and the
NGT is no exception.
In this Comment, I explore the mix of rhetoric and real-
ity in an eort to distill the merits of India’s new insti-
tutional experiment a nd its implications for the national
protection of human rights.13 Given the ubiquitous and
8. Jona Razzaque, Alternate Environment Forums, in P I E-
 L  I, P  B 124 (2004).
9. See Konakuppakatil G. Balakrishnan, former Chief Justice of the Supreme
Court of India, Address at the Asian Justices Forum on Strengthening Court
Capacity on Environment Adjudication (2007),
in/sub_pages/left_menu/publish/articles/articles_pdf/judicial.htm (last vis-
10. See, e.g., M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1987 SC 1086 (India Supreme
Court recommended the establishment of regional environmental courts
composed of members of the judiciary and experts from scientic elds);
Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC
1446 (India Supreme Court observed that environmental courts empow-
ered with civil and criminal jurisdiction must be established to eectively
and expeditiously deal with environmental issues in the country); A.P Pol-
lution Control Bd. v. Union of India, AIR 1999 SC 812 (India Supreme
Court refers to the need to establish environmental courts endowed with
expert advise to inform the judicial process).
11. See Lavanya Rajamani, -
 ,
19 J. E. L. 293, 319 (2007).
12. Id.
13. N.D. Jayal v. Union of India (2004), 9 SCC 362, at ¶24 (India Supreme
Court recognizes the right to environment as a fundamental right under
Copyright © 2016 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT