Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

Be­fore NGT, high courts in dif­fer­ent states used to take up im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal cases, in­clud­ing suo motu ones through "green" Benches. While some, in Tamil Nadu, West Ben­gal and Kar­nataka, re­main ac­tive, oth­ers are slowly dy­ing down, as en­vi­ron­men­tal mat­ters now go to NGT. Ac­cord­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Sub­has Dutta, the green Bench is likely to be­come non-func­tional in the near fu­ture.

How­ever, con­flicts are brew­ing be­tween NGT and the high courts. As per the NGT Act, ap­peals from NGT can only go to the Supreme Court, thus by­pass­ing the high courts. But the Madras High Court has dis­agreed with this pro­vi­sion. It has stressed that the bar im­posed on lower courts by the Act, ex­clud­ing them from de­lib­er­at­ing on en­vi­ron­men­tal cases, does not ex­tend to the high courts. This is be­cause the ju­ris­dic­tion of a high court un­der Ar­ti­cle 226/227 of the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion is part of the Con­sti­tu­tion's ba­sic struc­ture. In other words, the court stressed that en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­peals from NGT had to go to the high court first be­fore go­ing to the apex court.

The at­ti­tude of other high courts in this mat­ter is not con­sis­tent. In June 2014, the Bom­bay High Court or­dered an ap­peal from NGT be sent to the apex court. The is­sue is now pend­ing be­fore the Supreme Court for clar­i­fi­ca­tion.

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