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National Green Tribunal Does Not Oust Jurisdiction Of High Courts; Direct Appeals From NGT To SC Do Not Undermine HCs : Supreme Court

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
18 May 2022 5:45 AM GMT
National Green Tribunal Does Not Oust Jurisdiction Of High Courts; Direct Appeals From NGT To SC Do Not Undermine HCs : Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the constitutionality of Section 3 of the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, which provides for the establishment of the NGT by the Central Government.

The court also held that the National Green Tribunal under Section 14 & 22 of the NGT Act does not oust the High Court's jurisdiction under Article 226 & 227 as the same is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy also held that the remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 22 of the NGT Act is intra vires the Constitution of India.

Writ Petition/Issues

The court made the above observations while rejecting a challenge made by the MP High Court Advocates Bar Association against Section 3 of the NGT. The writ petitioners, the Madhya Pradesh High Court Advocates Bar Association and the District Bar Association, had raised the following issues before the Apex Court in their writ petition

A.Whether the National Green Tribunal (hereinafter referred to as "the NGT") ousts the High Court's jurisdiction under Sections 14 & 22 of the NGT Act?

B.Whether a seat of the NGT should be in every State? If yes, should they invariably be established at the principal seat of High Court, which in this case would be Jabalpur instead of Bhopal?

C.Whether the remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court from the decisions of the NGT under Section 22 of the NGT Act is ultra vires to the Constitution? Whether an appeal mechanism be provided to the High Courts from the decisions of the NGT?

D.Whether Section 3 of the NGT Act is ultra vires to the Constitution as suffering from the vice of excessive delegation?

Section 3 NGT Act

Section 3 of the NGT Act reads as follows :

"3 Establishment of Tribunal. -The Central Government shall, by notification, establish, with effect from such date as may be specified therein, a Tribunal to be known as the National Green Tribunal* to exercise the jurisdiction, powers and authority conferred on such Tribunal by or under this Act".

Not a case of excessive delegation

The petitioners had contended that Section 3 is a case of excessive delegation to the Union Government. Rejecting this contention, the bench observed:

It must be borne in mind that the operationalization of the NGT, including the location of its Benches, was closely monitored by the Supreme Court. It is further seen that the Union Government is to specify the ordinary place of sitting of NGT and its territorial jurisdiction under Section 3 of the NGT Act being mindful of the demand for environment litigation within a particular territorial area. The Government is also to be guided by the objects of the Act as also the directions given by the Supreme Court from time to time. Since, the Government is acting on the issue with the guidance of this Court, and the Government is obliged to follow the objectives of the NGT Act, adequate safeguards are seen to guide the government. We are therefore of the opinion that Section 3 of the NGT Act is not a case of excessive delegation

Selection Committee for the NGT clearly has judicial dominance.

The court noted that the petitioners have relied on the judgment in Madras Bar Association vs. Union of India and Anr. (2014) 10 SCC 1 to contend that the NGT is neither accessible nor it is independent in dealing with environmental cases. In the said case, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the National Tax Tribunal Act, 2005 ('NTT Act'). The court said:

"Moreover, one must not overlook the distinction between the operation of the NTT Act vis-à-vis the NGT Act. To be specific, the NTT Act provided that the NTT would ordinarily sit at New Delhi. The NGT Act however provides for the creation of benches across the country. Additionally, the NTT was vested with the power of adjudicating appeals arising from orders passed by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal on substantial questions of law. This was a jurisdiction that the High Courts were exercising under Article 227 in certain cases, and in that context, it was found that the NTT was indirectly impinging on the jurisdiction of the High Courts under Article 227. The jurisdiction exercised by the NGT is however distinct, and different, and not comparable. Also 21. glaring was the fact that Union Government had the power to transfer members of the NTT from one bench to another. No such provision exists in the NGT Act. Besides, the NTT was constituted only to determine substantial questions of law and it was unclear how accountants and other technical members with no legal training would deal with the issues raised in such matters. Those troubling issues do not arise in the NGT Act. One must also be cognizant of the fact that the Selection Committee under Section 7 of the NTT Act was dominated by two secretaries of the Government, as opposed to the Selection Committee for the NGT under the Tribunal Reforms Act which clearly has judicial dominance.

The court therefore observed that there are striking distinctions between the operation of the NGT Act and the NTT Act, and thus the petitioners' reliance on the NTT judgment, is wholly misplaced.

Constitutional validity of Section 22 of the NGT Act

The petitioners had also contended that instead of appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 22 from the orders passed by the NGT, an appeal mechanism as a matter of right should also be provided before the concerned High Courts. The court observed that even when a direct appeal to the Supreme Court is provided by a statute against the decision of a tribunal, the remedy under Article 226 or 227 before the High Court remains unextinguished.

"The options available to a litigant to either move to the Supreme Court in a case where a substantial question of law arises or proceed under Article 226 or 227 must not also be overlooked. If necessary, a party can also approach this Court by way of an Article 136 petition. With such choices being available for a party no rational justification is found for striking down Section 22 of the Act which provides for a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.. A litigating party must also realise that in any event, if the opposite side approaches the Supreme Court, the litigant on the other side would have to defend his case before this Court and at that stage they cannot be complaining about the distance to Delhi. Thus, the remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court under the NGT Act from the NGT's decision cannot be seen as denial of access to justice to the litigants in the field of environmental law."

On Sections 14 & 22 of the NGT Act

The court observed that nothing contained in the NGT Act either impliedly or explicitly, ousts the jurisdiction of the High Courts under Article 226 and 227 and the power of judicial review remains intact and unaffected by the NGT Act.

"The prerogative of writ jurisdiction of High Courts is neither taken away nor it can be ousted, as without any doubt, it is definitely a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The High Court's exercise their discretion in tandem with the law depending on the facts of each particular case.", the court observed.

The court also observed that the seat of the NGT benches can be located as per exigencies and it is not necessary to locate them in every State.

Case details

Madhya Pradesh High Court Advocates Bar Association vs Union of India | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 495 | WP(C) 433 OF 2012 | 18 May 2022

Coram: Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy

Click Here To Read/Download Judgment

Headnotes

National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 ; Section 3 - Establishment of NGT - Constitutional validity upheld - Section 3 of the NGT Act is not a case of excessive delegation of power to the Central Government. (Para 38(C),32-37)

National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 ; Section 14 and 22 - NGT under Section 14 & 22 of the NGT Act does not oust the High Court's jurisdiction under Article 226 & 227 as the same is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. (Para 38(A), 12-15)

National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 ; Section 22 - The remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 22 of the NGT Act is intra vires the Constitution of India - It cannot be seen as denial of access to justice to the litigants in the field of environmental law. (Para 38(B), 24-31)

National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 ; Section 3,4 - The seat of the NGT benches can be located as per Page 37 of 37 exigencies and it is not necessary to locate them in every State - Prayer for relocating the Bhopal NGT to Jabalpur is unmerited and is rejected. (Para 38(D),16-23)

National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 - Establishment of NGT - The role of the NGT was not simply adjudicatory, but it also had the equally vital role which is preventive, ameliorative, or of the remedial category. (Para 6-10)

Constitution of India, 1950 ; Articles 32, 226 and 227 - The power of judicial review under Articles 226, 227, and 32 are part of the basic structure of our constitution and the same is inviolable [Referred to L. Chandra Kumar vs. Union of India 1997 (3) SCC 261 ] (Para 12)

Constitution of India, 1950 ; Articles 136, 225 and 227 - Even when a direct appeal to the Supreme Court is provided by a statute against the decision of a tribunal, the remedy under Article 226 or 227 before the High Court remains unextinguished. (Para 24)



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