The Supreme Court has asked National Green Tribunal (NGT) to decide whether it can entertain applications which is in the nature of Public Interest Litigation.
The bench comprising Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice AM Khanwilkar was considering an SLP filed against Bombay High Court order. The Bombay High Court, while disposing a writ petition filed against NGT order by some real estate builders, had asked the tribunal to lay down the concept of “aggrieved person” and also on the point whether NGT can entertain an application which is in the nature of PIL which is otherwise maintainable in the high court and the Supreme Court of India.
Some persons had approached the NGT against the constructions made by these builders alleging that they are in violation of environmental laws. The applications filed by builders before NGT questioning the locus of petitioners, as well as on the issue of limitation, were dismissed. These orders were assailed before the high court.
The division bench of the high court observed: “The issue raised in these Petitions is of considerable with importance and the same is likely to affect large number of cases which may be filed before NGT. On the one hand, it is essential to ensure protection of environmental rights as laid down under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and other Acts mentioned in Schedule-I of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 and therefore the extent and scope of power which may be exercised by NGT has to be considered in detail on the touchstone of the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and other Statutes including the Constitution of India. Secondly, the question of limitation also needs to be decided in view of the peculiar manner in which the period of limitation is prescribed under Section 14 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. In view of the peculiar wording of the said section, correct interpretation of the said provision is necessary, firstly in order to ensure that those who violate the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 do not get away scot free and, at the same time, applications are not filed belatedly after the entire project is completed. The third question which is equally important is: whether NGT can entertain an application which is in the nature of PIL, though the words used in the section are that “on a complaint filed by a person aggrieved, NGT can entertain an application”. The exact connotation of the words “person aggrieved” is therefore required to be looked into.”
The high court did not decide these issues, but disposed the writ petition, by directing the NGT to consider the matter afresh. It said: “Tribunal shall also frame a preliminary issue on the question of limitation and locus after giving an opportunity to both sides and lay down the concept of “aggrieved person” and also on the point whether NGT can entertain an application which is in the nature of PIL which is otherwise maintainable in the High Court and Supreme Court of India. We direct the NGT to decide all these issues within a period of three months.”
The apex court bench disposed of the Special Leave Petition filed by Cavelossim Villagers Forum with a direction to the tribunal to pass appropriate orders in terms of the above observations made by the high court.