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The National Green Tribunal Does Not Take Away The Jurisdiction Of The High Courts ; Direct Appeals From The NGT To The Supreme Court Do Not Undermine The HCs: Supreme Court

Mridul Gupta ,
  20 May 2022       Share Bookmark

Court :
The Hon'ble Supreme Court
Brief :

Citation :
Writ Petition (Civil) No. 433 of 2012

CAUSE TITLE:
Madhya Pradesh High Court Advocates Bar Association and Anr. Vs. Union of India and Anr.

DATE OF JUDGEMENT:
18 May 2022

JUDGE(S):
The Honourable Mr. Justice K.M Joseph
The Honourable Mr. Justice Hrishikesh Roy

PARTIES:
Petitioner(s): Madhya Pradesh High Court AdvocatesBar Association and Anr.
Respondent(s): Union of India and Anr.

SUBJECT

Through this writ petition, the petitioners have raised a challenge to the vires of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.

IMPORTANT PROVISION

The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010(hereinafter as “the NGT Act”)

Section 3: Establishment of National Green Tribunal by the Central Government.

Section 14: Tribunal to settle disputes realting to environment.

Section 22: Appeal to Supreme Court

Any person aggrieved by any award, decision or order of the tribunal, may, file an appeal to the Supreme Court.

OVERVIEW

  • The petitioners filed a writ petition in which they requested the following relief:
  • To issue an appropriate writ directing that the National Green Tribunal (hereafter referred to as NGT) be established at all locations where the major seat of the High Court is located.
  • Declare Section 14 r/w 22 of the National Green Tribunal Act unlawful inasmuch as it purports to exclude High Court writ jurisdiction under Article 226/227 of the Indian Constitution.

ISSUES

  • Whether under Sections 14 and 22 of the NGT Act, the NGT have jurisdiction over the High Court?
  • Whether the NGT have a seat in each state? If so, should they always be located in the main seat of the High Court?
  • Whether the remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court from NGT rulings under Section 22 of the NGT Act was unconstitutional?
  • Whether Section 3 of the NGT Act is unconstitutional because it suffered from the vice of excessive delegation?

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE PETITIONERS

  • The petitioners contended that the integration of Sections 14 and 22 into the NGT Act rendered the High Courts' jurisdiction under Article 226/227 obsolete. As a result, the core characteristic of the Constitution had been compromised, and the provisions of Section 14 read with Section 22 of the NGT Act should be struck down to the degree that they deprive the High Courts of their power as a superior Court.
  • The petitioners argued that the NGT's Bhopal Bench was chosen arbitrarily, and that the decision was contrary to the Supreme Court's directive in S.P. Sampath Kumar vs. Union of India [(1987) 1 SCC 124], which stated that any Tribunal's seat should be located near the principal seat of the High Court. According to that ratio, it should be in Jabalpur, the primary seat of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
  • In the petitioner's opinion, the remedy of appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 22 of the NGT Act amounted to denial of access to justice for economically vulnerable litigants, and this was argued to defeat the inherent objective of access to justice by bypassing the conveniently accessible remedy before the High Courts under Articles 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution.
  • The petitioners then contended that the NGT lacked the authority and autonomy enjoyed by judges in the High Courts, and that, given the conditions of service, tenure, and other aspects of the NGT's judicial and non-judicial members, it was neither an effective nor an appropriate substitute for the High Courts, which were hearing environmental disputes through respective Green Benches prior to the NGT Act's enactment. The NGT could only play a "supplementary or submissive role" rather than acting as a "effective and adequate substitute for the High Courts."

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENTS

  • The learned Attorney General projected that the NGT was set up because of the prodding and recommendations made by the Supreme Court while dealing with environmental cases and the Parliament was repeatedly entreated by the Court to create a specialised environmental court with qualified judges and technical experts on the Bench. The Law Commission suggested in it's 186th Report that appeals from the environmental courts should lie before the Supreme Court. It was further submitted that the NGT Act was enacted and the environmental cases which were hitherto heard by green benches in the High Court, were ordered to be transferred to the NGT by the Supreme Court itself as the same helped in rendering expeditious and specialised justice in the field of environment.
  • According to the learned Attorney General, the NGT was established as a result of the Supreme Court's prodding and recommendations while dealing with environmental cases, and the Court repeatedly entreated Parliament to create a specialised environmental court with qualified judges and technical experts on the Bench. In its 186th Report, the Law Commission proposed that appeals from environmental courts be heard by the Supreme Court. It was also argued that the NGT Act was enacted and that the Supreme Court itself directed that environmental cases formerly heard by green benches in the High Court be transferred to the NGT in order to provide quick and specialised justice in the realm of environment.
  • It was argued that the creation and establishment of the NGT, as well as the location of the Benches, occurred under the active supervision of the Supreme Court, and that the concerned Benches and their place of sitting were notified by the Central Government only after the proposed places of sitting recommended by the Central Government received the concurrence of the Supreme Court. As a result, it was contended that the associated notification was sanctioned by the Supreme Court. The respondents point out that the Supreme Court monitored and oversaw the implementation of the NGT Act and setting up of its Benches in Union of India Vs. Vimal Bhai (SLP(C) No. 12065 of 2009) and it reflected that individual Bench of the NGT was set up to cater to multiple States and the location so chosen for the NGT at Bhopal, also had the approval of the Supreme Court.
  • It was also argued that a litigant's remedy before the High Court under Articles 226 and 227 remained available despite the passage of the NGT Act and the provision for appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 22 of the NGT Act. The learned AG argued that the NGT Act has no effect on the High Court's judicial review power because it is part of the basic structure of the Indian constitution.

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS

  • Nothing in the NGT Act, either implicitly or explicitly, obviates the High Courts' authority under Articles 226 and 227, and the power of judicial review remained intact and untouched by the NGT Act. The prerogative of writ jurisdiction of High Courts was not taken away, nor could it be abolished, because it is undeniably a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Depending on the facts of each case, the High Court used its discretion in conjunction with the law.
  • The Supreme Court addressed the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) in S.P. Sampath Kumar vs. Union of India [(1987) 1 SCC 124]. Given the huge volume of service-related issues, it was proposed that the CAT Benches be established at the seat of each High Court. However, such reasoning could not be used to the NGT. As a result, the decision in the mentioned case did not help the petitioners who wanted the NGT Bench moved from Bhopal to Jabalpur, the location of Madhya Pradesh High Court.
  • The implication of the Supreme Court being conceived as the first appellate forum was considered in Rojer Mathew v. South Indian Bank Ltd. [(2020) 6 SCC 1],and in that case the Union Government was directed to do a study on the effect of direct appeals to the Supreme Court and place the resultant report before Parliament. But even in Rojer Mathew [supra], the Supreme Court had no occasion to say that direct appeals to the Supreme Court was constitutionally impermissible.It could not be overlooked that it was the Supreme Court itself which had recommended the setting up of environmental court with direct appeals to the Supreme Court. This also supported the proposition on constitutional validity of Section 22 of the NGT Act and that it is not ultra vires to the Constitution.
  • It must be borne in mind that the operationalization of the NGT, including the location of its Benches, was closely monitored by the Supreme Court. The Government was also to be guided by the objects of the Act as also the directions given by the Supreme Court from time to time. Since, the Government was acting on the issue with the guidance of the Supreme Court, and the Government was obliged to follow the objectives of the NGT Act. Therefore Section 3 of the NGT Act is not a case of excessive delegation.

CONCLUSION

  • The NGT’s jurisdiction under Sections 14 and 22 of the NGT Act does not supersede the High Court's jurisdiction under Articles 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution.
  • The remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 22 of the NGT Act is not unconstitutional under Indian Constitution.
  • Section 3 of the NGT Act does not constitute an excessive transfer of power to the Central Government.
  • The seats of the NGT benches can be situated as needed, and they are not required to be located in every state. The petition to relocate the Bhopal NGT to Jabalpur was denied because it was unjustified.
  • The Writ Petition was judged to be without merit and was rejected.

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