The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the seats of the NGT benches can be located as per exigencies, however in view of weak case load, it is not necessary to locate them in every state.
A bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy said: “With the low caseload, if the NGT Benches are set up in all 28 states and 8 union territories as is suggested by the petitioners, the judges and other members in these forums might be left twiddling their thumbs. Accordingly, no basis is seen to allow one NGT bench in every state.”
It noted that it is also worthy of attention that the total disposal by all benches of the NGT is 2,799 cases during 12 months i.e., March, 2021 to February, 2022.
“The pendency figure for this period is 2,237 only. The rate of disposal being higher than the pendency, no major backlog issue is seen before the NGT. The strikingly small 107 cases in the NGT’s Bhopal Bench must also receive our due attention. These data do not provide for a reasonable basis to entertain a prayer for a NGT Bench at Jabalpur…,” it said.
The petitioners also pleaded that instead of appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 22 from the orders passed by the NGT, an appeal mechanism as a matter of right should also be provided before the high courts concerned. The petitioners claimed appeal to the Supreme Court is inadequate and unaffordable and, therefore, inaccessible.
To this, the bench said: “On this aspect it needs to be observed that even when a direct appeal to the Supreme Court is provided by a statute against the decision of a tribunal, the remedy under Article 226 or 227 before the high court remains unextinguished. Moreover, the appeal under Section 22 of the NGT Act, is limited to the grounds under Section 100 of the CPC and the Supreme Court does not function as a regular first appellate court.”
It added that subject to discretion being exercised, the affected litigants can move high court under Article 226 or 227 and in such cases, a special leave petition (SLP) under Article 136 of the Constitution could also be maintained to the Supreme Court from the high court’s verdict.
The bench added that the options available to a litigant to either move to the Supreme Court in a case where a substantial question of law arises or proceed under Article 226 or 227 must not also be overlooked. “If necessary, a party can also approach this court by way of an Article 136 petition. With such choices being available for a party, no rational justification is found for striking down Section 22 of the Act which provides for a direct appeal to the Supreme Court,” it added.
The bench added that the remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court under the NGT Act from the NGT’s decision cannot be seen as denial of access to justice to the litigants in the field of environmental law.
The petitioners, the Madhya Pradesh High Court Advocates Bar Association and the District Bar Association, raised a challenge to the vires of the NGT Act, 2010. The petitioners sought a direction to set up the bench of NGT at all the places where the principal seat of high court is situated, and also proposed relocating the Bhopal NGT to Jabalpur.
Dismissing the plea, the top court said: “The seat of the NGT benches can be located as per exigencies and it is not necessary to locate them in every state. The prayer for relocating the Bhopal NGT to Jabalpur is unmerited and is rejected.”
It added concluded, “The National Green Tribunal under Section 14 & 22 of the NGT Act does not oust the High Court’s jurisdiction under Article 226 & 227 as the same is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 22 of the NGT Act is intra vires the Constitution of India. Section 3 of the NGT Act is not a case of excessive delegation of power to the Central Government.”