Suo Moto Powers of the National Green Tribunal
Municipal Corporation of Bombay v Ankita Sinha
The Supreme Court held that the NGT has suo moto powers to execute its functions under the NGT Act, 2010.
Petitioner: Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai
Respondent: Ankita Sinha
Does the National Green Tribunal have suo moto powers?
In 2018, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) passed an order that imposed a cost of Rs. 5 crore on the Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation. The order concerned the non-instalment of a sewage treatment plant to deal with solid waste management. Here, the NGT was acting on a newspaper report.
Similarly, in March 2020, the NGT passed an order in a case arising from a letter written to its Chairman. The Order increased the minimum distance of quarries from residential areas from 50 to 200 metres.
In May 2020, the NGT passed an order on the gas leak in Vishakhapatanam. The tribunal had taken suo moto cognisance of the issue based on a news report. LG Polymers (owners of the plant where the leak occurred) appealed the NGT’s order at the Supreme Court (SC). They stated that the NGT did not have the power to take suo moto cognisance under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (NGT Act). The SC did not decide the issue, and directed LG Polymers to make the argument before the NGT first, since the matter was still being heard by the tribunal.
On June 6th 2020, the NGT passed its final Order, recognising its own suo moto powers under the NGT Act. This Order stated that the purpose of the NGT was to ‘provide relief and compensation to victims of environment damage, restitution of property, and restoration of (the) environment’. Further, under Section 19 of the Act, the NGT can regulate its own procedure to discharge its functions. The Order emphasised that both these provisions gave the NGT suo moto powers.
However, this power has not been recognised by the Supreme Court (SC). 16 petitions are pending before the Court regarding the NGT’s suo moto powers.
The appellants argue that there is no provision under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (the Act) that explicitly allows the Tribunal to exercise suo moto powers. Since the NGT is a statutory body, its powers are limited to the provisions of the Act. Each dispute before it must have more than two parties in an adversarial system. While the Act grants the tribunal jurisdiction over all civil cases where there is a ‘substantial question relating to the environment’ (s 14), this cannot be read to include suo moto powers of the NGT.
The respondents argue that the broad powers vested in the NGT to adjudicate ‘substantial questions relating to the environment’ reflects the purpose with which the tribunal was formed. According to them, this purpose guides the ‘conscience of the Tribunal’. The jurisdiction of the NGT is based on a right to a healthy environment under the constitutionally recognised right to life. So, a procedural requirement such as a formal petition, must not overshadow the core purpose of the tribunal.
The Court also heard Senior Advocate Arvind Grover, who was appointed as the amicus curiae. In his interpretation, the NGT had a wide jurisdiction under the Act, but this did not extend to suo moto powers. However, he did agree that an application to the NGT does not need to be a formal one, an informal letter would be enough.
On October 7th, 2021, Justice Hrishikesh Roy delivered the judgment and the Bench held that the NGT may exercise suo moto powers to execute its functions under the NGT Act, 2010.