The Supreme Court said on Thursday that it is important to sustain the spirit of public good and not render the environmental watchdog of our country toothless and ineffective, as it declared that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been vested with the power to take suo motu cognizance on environmental issues.
The top court emphasised that it is vital to leave behind an environmental legacy for generations to come in the backdrop of issues connected to climate change.
A bench headed by justice A.M. Khanwilkar and comprising justices Hrishikesh Roy and C.T. Ravikumar observed that it would be procedural hair-splitting 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.
“To endorse such an approach would surely be rendering the forum procedurally shackled or incapacitated,” the bench said in its 77-page judgment.
Citing the play ‘Waiting for Godot’ by Samuel Beckett, the bench said: “At the end of the deliberations, we find ourselves saying that the National Green Tribunal must act, if the exigencies so demand, without indefinitely waiting for the metaphorical Godot to knock on its portal.”
Senior advocates Nidhesh Gupta and Sanjay Parikh referred to the special role envisaged for the NGT and the history of its incorporation, and made a powerful submission in support of the exercise of suo motu jurisdiction by the NGT.
The bench said: “It is vital for the well-being 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”.
The issue of NGT’s jurisdiction arose out of a civil appeal filed by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. Justice Roy, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said the NGT Act gives much leeway to the tribunal to go beyond a mere adjudicatory role and “the Parliament’s intention is clearly discernible to create a multifunctional body, with the capacity to provide redressal for environmental exigencies”.
The bench said that institutions which are often addressing urgent concerns gain little from procedural nit-picking, which are unwarranted in the face of both the statutory spirit and the evolving nature of environmental degradation.
The court did not accept the contention by a battery of senior advocates that the NGT was a statutory body which could not act suo motu like a constitutional court.
“The NGT, with the distinct role envisaged for it, can hardly afford to remain a mute spectator when no one knocks on its door,” it said.
The court declined to entertain the Centre’s contention that the NGT does not have the power to take cognizance of a matter on its own on the basis of news reports, but can act on a letter sent to it.