Violation of environmental and forest laws are not disputes only between two parties as it affects the common public, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday while examining the issue of whether the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has the power to take cognisance of matters on its own.
The apex court said the green panel has been established under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environment protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources, including enforcement of legal rights relating to environment.
"To be fair to the tribunal, it does not traverse to any areas beyond environmental issues," a bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar observed.
The bench, also comprising justices Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar, said the NGT is a forum created for special cause and litigation relating to environment.
"Violation of forest law, violation of environmental law are generally not disputes between two parties as such. May be, it may have the effect of affecting one person but it is also affecting the common public,” the bench observed
The top court heard arguments advanced by a battery of senior advocates, including Mukul Rohatgi, Dushyant Dave, A N S Nadkarni, Krishnan Venugopal and V Giri, in the matter.
Rohatgi said the issue is whether NGT has suo motu jurisdiction or not.
“The NGT does not have suo motu jurisdiction,” he said, adding that it has no power to go beyond the statutory rule.
Nadkarni, while contending that NGT does not have power to take suo motu cognisance, argued that seeking enforcement of legal rights relating to environment has to be done through an application before the tribunal.
During the hearing which would continue on Thursday, the bench told one of the advocates arguing in the matter, “Suppose, there is a genuine case of environmental degradation. Environmental degradation is happening and it comes to the notice of the tribunal, let us say, in the form of an article in newspaper.
"Now, if your arguments are accepted, you are shutting the door on the tribunal to act on such an information.
The bench said the NGT Act says that tribunal has jurisdiction to deal with issues related to environment.
“So, a tribunal, which was constituted to achieve that object, if they resort to any method to achieve that object, how can you say that the power is not actually available to be exercised,” the bench observed.
“'Kaun time nikalega' (who will take out time), that is the attitude in environmental matters. Why should I go forward. Why should I spend my time in court? Then who will take up the cause? The cause has to be taken up by someone. The NGT can take up that cause. What is wrong with that,” the bench observed while deliberating upon the issue.
The top court had earlier observed that purpose and intent behind the provisions of the NGT Act has to kept in mind while dealing with the matter.
The bench was hearing a batch of petitions which has raised the issue regarding NGT's power to take suo motu cognisance.
In one of the matters, the NGT had earlier taken suo motu cognisance on the issue pertaining to solid waste management in Maharashtra and imposed cost of Rs 5 crore on the municipal corporation.
The apex court was earlier told that the Bombay High Court was already monitoring the issue of solid waste management in Maharashtra and the NGT should not have taken cognisance on its own in the matter.