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NGT's Adjudicatory Functions Cannot Be Delegated To 'Expert Committees': Supreme Court

Ashok KM
3 Feb 2022 2:05 PM GMT
NGTs Adjudicatory Functions Cannot Be Delegated To Expert Committees: Supreme Court
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Adjudicatory functions assigned to courts and tribunals cannot be hived off to administrative committees, the court remarked.

The Supreme Court observed that adjudicatory functions of National Green Tribunal (NGT) cannot be delegated to administrative expert committees."An expert committee may be able to assist the NGT, for instance, by carrying out a fact-finding exercise, but the adjudication has to be by the NGT. This is not a delegable function.", the bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Bela M....

The Supreme Court observed that adjudicatory functions of National Green Tribunal (NGT) cannot be delegated to administrative expert committees.

"An expert committee may be able to assist the NGT, for instance, by carrying out a fact-finding exercise, but the adjudication has to be by the NGT. This is not a delegable function.", the bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Bela M. Trivedi observed. 

The court remarked that the NGT does not have a dearth of 'expertise' when it comes to the issues of environment.

In July 2014, an Original Application was filed by environmental organisations and individuals which pertained to the issue of the dumping of unsegregated and untreated Municipal Solid Waste at an open landfill site in the district of Surat. Several orders were passed in this OA from time to time. When the proceedings came up on 28 September 2018 before the Principal Bench of the NGT, the OA was disposed of on the ground that in another OA, the NGT had constituted Apex, Regional and State Level Committees to monitor the implementation of the SWM Rules. The OA was thus closed with liberty to represent the case and ventilate all grievances before the appropriate committee. In appeal before the Apex Court, the issue raised was whether the Principal Bench of the NGT is correct when it directed the appellants to now approach one of the Committees set up by it, rather than continue with the proceedings in the OA.

The bench, at the outset noted that the OA filed by the appellants raised issues falling within the jurisdiction of the NGT under Section 14, since it relates to the implementation of the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016. The court then explained the difference between the expert committees which are set by the courts/tribunals from those set up by the Government in exercise of executive powers or under a particular statute.

The latter are set up due to their technical expertise in a given area, and their reports are, subject to judicially observed restraints, open to judicial review before courts when decisions are taken solely based upon them. The precedents of this court unanimously note that courts should be circumspect in rejecting the opinion of these committees, unless they find their decision to be manifestly arbitrary or mala fide . On the other hand, courts/tribunals themselves set up expert committees on occasion. These committees are set up because the fact-finding exercise in many matters can be complex, technical and time-consuming, and may often require the committees to conduct field visits. These committees are set up with specific terms of reference outlining their mandate, and their reports have to conform to the mandate. Once these committees submit their final reports to the court/tribunal, it is open to the parties to object to them, which is then adjudicated upon. The role of these expert committees does not substitute the adjudicatory role of the court or tribunal. The role of an expert committee appointed by an adjudicatory forum is only to assist it in the exercise of adjudicatory functions by providing them better data and factual clarity, which is also open to challenge by all concerned parties. Allowing for objections to be raised and considered makes the process fair and participatory for all stakeholders. 

The court observed that Sections 14 and Section 15 entrust adjudicatory functions to the NGT.

"The NGT is a specialized body comprising of judicial and expert members. Judicial members bring to bear their experience in adjudicating cases. On the other hand, expert members bring into the decision-making process scientific knowledge on issues concerning the environment," the court added.

Referring to recent judgment in Hanuman Laxman Aroskar v. Union of India, the bench observed:

Section 15 empowers the NGT to award compensation to the victims of pollution and for environmental damage, to provide for restitution of property which has been damaged and for the restitution of the environment. The NGT cannot abdicate its jurisdiction by entrusting these core adjudicatory functions to administrative expert committees. Expert committees may be appointed to assist the NGT in the performance of its task and as an adjunct to its fact-finding role. But adjudication under the statute is entrusted to the NGT and cannot be delegated to administrative authorities. Adjudicatory functions assigned to courts and tribunals cannot be hived off to administrative committees.

Allowing the appeal, the bench observed that the NGT has in the present case abdicated its jurisdiction and entrusted judicial functions to an administrative expert committee.

"An expert committee may be able to assist the NGT, for instance, by carrying out a fact-finding exercise, but the adjudication has to be by the NGT. This is not a delegable function. Thus, the order impugned in the appeal cannot be sustained. The consequence of the impugned order is to efface the meticulous exercise which was carried out by the earlier Benches. Valuable time has been lost in the meantime and crucial issues pertaining to the environment in the present case have been placed on the back-burner", the court added.

Case details

Case name: Kantha Vibhag Yuva Koli Samaj Parivartan Trust vs State of Gujarat

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 124

Case no.| date: CA 1046/2019 | 21 Jan 2022

Coram: Justices DY Chandrachud and Bela M. Trivedi

Counsel: Adv Shilpa Chohan for appellant, Adv Tejas Patel for respondent

Click here to Read/Download Judgment



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