Em­power NGT


The cover story "Tri­bunal on trial" (Novem­ber 15-30, 2014) that dealt with the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (NGT) was an in­ter­est­ing read. I am not con­vinced, how­ever, that set­ting up new in­sti­tu­tions is re­ally what In­dia needs. I think it is more im­por­tant to make the es­tab­lished in­sti­tu­tions work more ef­fec­tively.

Your cov­er­age con­firmed re­search find­ings of mine from the 1990s. Back then, my PhD the­sis for the so­ci­ol­ogy depart­ment of Biele­feld Uni­ver­sity in Ger­many dealt with en­vi­ron­men­tal cases of public in­ter­est lit­i­ga­tion in Kolkata. At the time, the un­der­ly­ing rea­son for Kolkata's eco­log­i­cal malaise was dys­func­tional gov­er­nance. Far too of­ten, ur­ban plan­ning and leg­is­la­tion were not good enough for im­ple­men­ta­tion. The gov­ern­ment agen­cies in­volved were un­der­staffed, un­der­funded and over­bur­dened. Their ju­ris­dic­tions were not al­ways clear. Fail­ure was sys­temic.

I learned that the ju­di­ciary serves as a fo­rum in which the qual­ity of par­ties' ar­gu­ments can mat­ter as much as the par­ties' hi­er­ar­chi­cal po­si­tion. The judges of­ten proved able to tackle griev­ances and im­prove gov­er­nance, but not ap­ply In­dian law be­cause the ex­ist­ing leg­is­la­tion was not suf­fi­cient for solv­ing the prob­lems at hand.

The NGT is strug­gling with the same kind of prob­lems. There­fore, it must be fully em­pow­ered. Un­less it is en­ti­tled to suo­motu ac­tion and ju­di­cial re­view, it can­not set right the sys­temic gov­er­nance fail­ure. And un­less it does so, it can­not re­duce the case bur­den of the high courts and the Supreme Court mean­ing­fully.

The Supreme Court's di­rec­tive to the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal to dis­con­nect wa­ter and power sup­plies to those in­dus­tries that flout rules and pol­lute the Ganga is a wel­come step. The Supreme Court's in­ter­ven­tion should act as an eye-opener for the in­dus­tri­al­ists. They should treat ef­flu­ents be­fore re­leas­ing them. The court's di­rec­tions to the NGT to file a sta­tus re­port ev­ery six months on ac­tion taken to con­trol pol­lu­tion should also be ap­pre­ci­ated.

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