By : Sneha Shukla
In the Supreme Court of India
|NAME OF THE CASE||Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai V. Ankita Sinha & ors.|
|CITATION||Civil Appeal No. 12122-12223 of 2018|
|DATE OF JUDGEMENT||October 7,2021|
|APPELLANT||Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai|
|RESPONDENT||Ankita Sinha and others|
|BENCH/ JUDGE||A.M.khanwilkar, Hrishikesh Roy and C.T.Ravikumar,JJ.|
|STATUTES/CONSTITUTION INVOLVED||Constitution of IndiaNational Green Tribunal Act,2010|
|IMPORTANT SECTIONS / ARTICLES||Constitution of India : Article 21,32,47,48(A) , 51(A)(g), 226. NGT Act , 2010 : Section 2,14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 29, 33.|
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on 7th October 2021 declared that the National Green Tribunal is vested with Suo Motu powers to take cognizance based on letters representations and media reports abandoned Hon’ble justice A.M.Khanwilkar, Rishikesh Roy & C.T.Ravi Kumar delivered the judgement on a batch of petition which raised the issue of whether NGT has Suo Motu jurisdiction or not.The court held that the NGT must be seen as a generous institution as the National Green Tribunal Act ,2010 provides the tribunal with wide ranging powers beyond that of a mere adjudicatory body.The court also acknowledged that environmental impact on climate change is gaining increasing visibility in recent time and the entity must be given the discretion to exercise Suo Moto power in order to salvage adverse environmental consequences for future generations.
In this case “Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai V. Ankita Sinha the Supreme Court was deciding whether the NGT has Suo Moto Powers. M.C.Mehta & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. 1986 case Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati suggested a separate court for the environmental case so that to cater issues of environmental pollution, conflict over natural resources, ecological destruction for assessment with scientific and technical data regarding environmental issues.
Before going further let us first understand “What is NGT’? NGT stands for National Green Tribunal. It is the specialized body established on 18th October 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for the rapid ( within the six months of filing the case) disposal of environmental cases. New Delhi is the main place for National Green Tribunal sitting. Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata, and Chennai are the other place the NGT is sitting. The NGT is not bound by the procedure laid down under the code of civil procedure, 1908, but it shall be guided by the principle of natural justice. Section 19 of the Act gives Tribunal the right to regulate its procedure. The decision of the National Green Tribunal is binding in nature. NGT and review its own decision. The decision of the NGT can be challenged before the Supreme Court within the 90 days. The main purpose of NGT is to protect the environment from any damage. Under article 21 of the Indian constitution Right to a Healthy environment is mentioned. So to protect this right whether NGT can exercise Suo Moto power was not clear.
Suo Motu : Suo Motu is a Latin term that means action taken on its own. The word Suo Motu cognizance means that the court can take up cases by their notice, without any petition being filed before them. In Article 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution this power is mentioned. Under Article 131 of the Indian Constitution Apex Court is granted with Suo Motu Power.
In this case Supreme Court held that the National Green Tribunal has power to take Suo Motu cognizance in the case of environmental, even though the NGT Act,2010 does not expressly offer the NGT with power to take Suo Moto cognizance. NGT in the case where no application was filed , can self take action to prevent or for the prevention of harm . But with this NGT’s Suo Moto jurisdiction would be subject to the natural justice.
FACT OF THE CASE
In this case of National Green Tribunal noticed an article titled “ Garbage Gangs of Deonar : The kingpins and Their Multi– Crore Trade” in the online news portal , The Quint. In the article it was describe that the sold waste which is not properly manage or you can say mismanage how it adversely effect the lives of people living in that area and how it affects the environment. National Green Tribunal took Suo Moto cognizance in this case and it directed the article writer Ankita Sinha to be the applicant for the case. After the orders from the National Green Tribunal proper inspection of the Deonar dumping site by various authorities/broads like Central Pollution Control Broad, Maharashtra Pollution Control Broad, and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai inspection by theses authorities taken place.In the report it was shown that the Landfill site failed in following the provision of the SolidWaste Management Rule 2016. NGT noted that ‘ damage to the environment and public health is self – evident’ for the case. This, cause National Green Tribunal to order the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to pay 5 crores as a compensation for their failure.Then the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai filed an appeal against the National Green Tribunal in the Supreme Court. By stating that the NGT does not have the power of the Suo Moto cognizance.
ISSUES BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT
- Whether the National Green Tribunal has the power to exercise Suo Motu Jurisdiction in the discharge of its functions under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010?
- Whether NGT can take issues directly on the basis of a news report or letter?
- Is there any provision in NGT that allow it to take cases on its own ?
RELATED PROVISION OF THE CASE
Constitution of India:
· ARTICLE 21 :
“Article 21 of the Constitution of India 1949 talk about ‘Protection of Life and Personal Liberty’ .In this article Right to the clean environment without any kind of pollution in also included”.
· ARTICLE 32:
“Article 32 deal with Hon’ble Supreme Court. This article grant ‘Right to
Constitutional Remedies’. Right to move to the Supreme Court by appropriate proceeding for the enforcement of the right granted in Part 3 of the Constitution”.
· ARTICLE 47 :
“It is the duty of State to raise the level of nutrition & improve living standard of public. And the improvement of public health as among its primary duties, and in particular the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medical purposes.”
· ARTICLE 48 A:
“ Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.”
· ARTICLE 51 A (g) :
“ To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures”.
· ARTICLE 226:
This article empowers Honorable High Court to take action through various writs
like Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Quo warrant Etc. Article 226 gives right to move
to High Court by appropriate proceeding for enforcement of the right.
National Green Tribunal Act , 2010
· Section 2 (1) (c) :
“ environment” includes water, air and land and the inter-relationship, which exists among and between water, air and land and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism and property.
Section 2 (1) (m) :
“ substantial question relating to environment” shall include an instance where,-
there is a direct violation of a specific statutory environmental obligation by a person by which,-
- the community at large other than an individual or group of individuals is affected or likely to be affected by the environmental consequences; or
- the gravity of damage to the environment or property is substantial; or
- the damage to public health is broadly measurable;
2. the environmental consequences relate to a specific activity or a point source of pollution”.
· Section 14 :
Tribunal to settle disputes. –
- “The Tribunal shall have the jurisdiction over all civil cases where a substantial question relating to environment (including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment), is involved and such question arises out of the implementation of the enactments specified in Schedule I.
- The Tribunal shall hear the disputes arising from the questions referred to in sub-section (1) and settle such disputes and pass order thereon.
- No application for adjudication of dispute under this section shall be entertained by the Tribunal unless it is made within a period of six months from the date on which the cause of action for such dispute first arose: Provided that the Tribunal may, if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the application within the said period, allow it to be filed within a further period not exceeding sixty days”.
● Section 15 (1) :
- “ for restitution of property damaged”.
- “ for restitution of the environment for such area or areas, as the Tribunal may think fit”.
● Section 18 (2) ( e ) :
“Without prejudice to the provisions contained in section 16, an application for
grant of relief or compensation or settlement of dispute may be made to the Tribunal by any person aggrieved, including any representative body or organisation”
● Section 20 :
“ The Tribunal shall, while passing any order or decision or award, apply the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle”.
● Section 25:
“Execution of award or order or decision of Tribunal. –
- An award or order or decision of the Tribunal under this Act shall be executable by the Tribunal as a decree of a civil court, and for this purpose, the Tribunal shall have all the powers of a civil court.
- Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), the Tribunal may transmit any order or award made by it to a civil court having local jurisdiction and such civil court shall execute the order or award as if it were a decree made by that court.
- Where the person responsible, for death of, or injury to any person or damage to any property and environment, against whom the award or order is made by the Tribunal, fails to make the payment or deposit the amount as directed by the Tribunal within the period so specified in the award or order, such amount, without prejudice to the filing of complaint for prosecution for an offence under this Act or any other law for the time being in force, shall be recoverable from the aforesaid person as arrears of land revenue or of public demand.”
● Section 29:
“ Bar of jurisdiction. – With effect from the date of establishment of the Tribunal under this Act, no civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any appeal in respect of any matter, which the Tribunal is empowered to determine under its appellate jurisdiction. No civil court shall have jurisdiction to settle dispute or entertain any question relating to any claim for granting any relief or compensation or restitution of property damaged or environment damaged which may be adjudicated upon by the Tribunal, and no injunction in respect of any action taken or to be taken by or before the Tribunal in respect of the settlement of such dispute or any such claim for granting any relief or compensation or restitution of property damaged or environment shall be granted by the civil court”.
ARGUMENT FROM THE APPELLANT SIDE
- The Learned Counsel argued in the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 that there is no explicit provision for the exercise of Suo Motu Cognizance.
- The Learned Counsel argued that the “NGT is a tribunal and a creature of statute, and as such, it cannot act on its motion or exercise the power of judicial review or act Suo Motu, in discharge of its function.” He referred to the cases Chartered v.Dharmender Bhohi20, Transcore v. Union of Indiaand Rajeev Hitendra Pathak v. Achyut Kashinath.
- He further said that the “NGT, being a creature of the statute, it can not assume inherent powers as mentioned under Article 32 & 226 of the constitution.” NGT has been a statutory body with a limited power to exercise. He mentioned the case of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Broad v. Sterlite Industries Ltd.
- The learned counsel said that the NGT has an adjudicatory role. For the case to be taken under the NGT, there must be two or more parties for the settlement of the dispute. NGT cannot act as one of the parties. For this, he referred to the case of Techi Tagi Tara v. Rajendra Singh Bhandari & Ors.
- He also said that the National Green Tribunal can take all civil cases where the matter is related to the environment. This power is mention in Section 14 of the act.But it does not include Suo Motu powers.
- According to the Amicus Curiae, the “National Green Tribunal is incapable of triggering action on its own . So it cannot act Suo Motu Cognizance without someone moving”.
ARGUMENT FROM THE RESPONDENT SIDE
- The Learned Counsel from the respondent side referred to the “special role envisaged for the NGT and mention the history of its incorporation making NGT equally powerful submission in support of exercise of Suo Motu jurisdiction, by the NGT.
- He further said that the NGT is a Tribunal with “Suo Generis Characteristic, it have a special jurisdiction to protect the environment. NGT can act as Supervisory body & it can decide substantial question relating to the environment”. He said that the broad powers vested in the NGT to adjudicate ‘substantial question relating to the environment”.
- The Learned Counsel said that the Right to life include Right to healthy environment, and the purpose of NGT is to safeguard it, So a procedural requirement like a formal petition must not overshadow the main purpose of the tribunal.
The judgement was given by the Large Bench of Justice A.M.Khanwilkar, Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice C.T. Ravi Kumar, JJ on October 7,2021.
In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has declared that the National Green Tribunal has the power to exercise Suo Motu jurisdiction in discharge of its function granted under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. The Court held that the reason behind the establishment of the National Green Tribunal is to protect the environment from any kind of damage as soon as possible. If NGT itself notices environmental damage, it becomes its duty to prevent that. NGT should not wait for someone else to notice that and then file a case. And then it would take action. This procedure fails the main objective of the NGT, which is the rapid disposal of environmental issue cases. 
The Court also observed that the NGT is setup to enforce the fundamental rights that are granted under the Indian constitution. In the case of Subhash Kumar v State of Bihar court explicitly held that the Article 21 ‘Right to life ‘ also includes the right to live in healthy environment. Delaying the procedure will affect the human health. That will be a violation of fundamental rights. The Court also referred to the case State of Punjab & Anr. v. Shamlal Murari & Anr. NGT have a duty to safeguard the Article 21 of constitution. “ Procedural provision must be allowed to fall in step with substantive rights that are invoked in environmental domain in large public interest”.
The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 When it is read as a whole, it gives much power to the NGT to act beyond a mere adjudicatory role. NGT has the power to encompass, inter alia, substantial causes of environment , it also provides compensation to victims. NGT Act, 2010 conferment of wide powers on ‘locus standi’ similar to that of writ court The Supreme Court also held that the NGT is vested with “non-adjudicatory powers’. The function of the NGT is important for the inception, prevention, and remedial delivery of fair justice in environmental matters.
The Court referred to various cases such as Paramjit Kaur v.State of Punjaband DG NHAI v. Aam Admi Lokmanch. These cases talk about Sui generis. The NGT must be seen as a Sui generis body and not just unus multorum, NGT have a special & exclusive role toward the public at large related to the environment aspects, the NGT must receive legal recognition of the court.In the National Green Tribunal Act,2010 under Section 14(1) application is not necessary to trigger NGT’s jurisdiction in function. For this three conditions are mandatory:- first one is civil cases, second is involvement of substantial question of environment and implementation of the enactment in schedule one, the jurisdiction & power of NGT gets activated.
At last Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the NGT can take Suo Motu action. The Court give guidelines to National Green Tribunal will give notice to the sender of letter or author of media report and to the party who is likely to be affected by the action will be given a right to present its case.
In my point of view, the judgment from the Hon’ble Supreme Court is correct. With the increase in power, the responsibility of the NGT has also increased. Now, NGT will not act as a mute spectator; it can now self-initiate cases related to the environment. NGT has done tremendous work to prevent environmental damage. The NGT has imposed a ban on diesel vehicles over 10 years old in the Delhi NCR. It also banned the use of plastic bags that were not just harmful to the environment but also to animals. At present, the ecological disturbance is increasing, and that is visible to us. It has become very important to maintain ecological balance and economic development. The autonomy and scope of the National Green Tribunal’s authority should be widened for the effective protection of the environment.
 Author is 3rd semester student of Amity Law School, Lucknow.
 M.C Mehta & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. 1986, 1987 AIR 1086, 1987 SCR (1) 819.
 DRISHTIIAS, https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-analysis/suo-motu-powers-of-national- green-tribunal ( last visited on 7 Jul. 22).
 Devika Sharma, Environmental Watchdog | NGT could act upon a letter written to it but cannot be triggered Suo Motu on learning about an environmental exigency?Supreme Court Verdict, SCC online. BLOG ( June28, 2022, 6:00PM), https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2021/10/11/whether-the-national-green-tribunal-has-the- power-to-exercise-suo-motu-jurisdiction-in-the-discharge-of-its-functions-under-the-national-green-tribunal-act- 2010/ .
 INDIA CONST. art. 21.
 INDIA CONST. art. 32.
 INDIA CONST. art. 47.
 INDIA CONST. art.48 A.
 INDIA CONST.art. 51 A (g).
 INDIA CONST.art. 226.
 NGT Act, 2010. §. 2 , cl. 1( c ).
NGT Act, 2010. §. 2, cl. 1 (m).
 NGT Act, 2010. §. 14.
 NGT Act, 2010. §. 15. cl. 1.
 NGT, Act 2010. § 18, cl. 2 (e).
 NGT, Act 2010. § 20
 NGT, Act 2010. § 25
 NGT, Act 2010. § 29
Chartered v. Dharmender Bhohi, Civil Appeal No. 8486 of 2013.
Transcore v. Union of India & Anr., Civil Appeal No. 3228 of 2006.
 Rajeev Hitendra Pathak v. Achyut Kashinath, Civil Appeal No. 4307 of 2007.
 Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Broad v. Sterlite Industries Ltd., Civil Appeal No.4763-64 of 2013.
 Techi Tagi Tara v. Rajendra Singh Bhandari & Ors. , Civil Appeal No. 1359 of 2017
Subhash Kumar v State of Bihar, 1991 AIR 420, 1991 SCR (1) 5.
 State of Punjab & Anr. v. Shamlal Murari & Anr, 1976 AIR 1177, 1976 SCR (2) 82.
 Paramjit Kaur v.State of Punjab, CRM-M- 3653- 2021.
DG NHAI v. Aam Admi Lokmanch, Civil Appeal No. 6932 of 2015.