The Centre informed the Supreme Court that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) cannot take decisions on its own as it does not have “suo motu” powers and is not mentioned in the statute.
Additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, made the submission in front of a bench headed by Justice A. M. Khanwilkar, appearing for the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) during a hearing of a bunch of appeals. The appeal was to examine whether the NGT has the power to directly take up issues based on news reports or at the instance of any letter or communication.
“It is our respectful submission that the suo motu power is not there,” said Bhati.
“The NGT does not enjoy any suo motu powers. But this cannot be stretched to the extent to suggest that a letter or application cannot be entertained by it. The tribunal cannot be tied up in procedural law for exercising power that is amply available to it under the Act. Once the tribunal receives any communication, it is duty-bound to take cognisance of that,” she added asserting the government’s point of view.
The bench of justices AM Khanwilkar, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar responded to the appeal stating that the ASG’s submission is “crucial” to the case since MoEFCC was the ministry that initiated the bill constituting the NGT through Parliament, reported the HT Times.
Bhati reminded the fact that the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, was passed to protect the environment, and even at that time, the Centre objected to giving suo motu powers to the tribunal and its members through which they can initiate action on their own.
The bench finds the usage of the term “suo motu” problematic. The bench questioned Ms Bhati if the tribunal receives communication in the form of a letter or a sworn affidavit, should it be ignored or would it be duty-bound to consider the request?
She said on receiving a letter or any other form of communication it is within the power of the green panel to take cognisance of that, reported the Hindu.
“We have filed a one-page affidavit and all that we have said is suo motu power is not there in the statute and therefore, suo motu power can’t be exercised by the tribunal,” she added.
“In fact, nobody has argued that there is a lack of power. This is a peculiar tribunal dealing with environmental matters. Often, the environment ends up being nobody’s baby,” said the ASG.
The arguments are further going to continue on September 7. The Bench also heard submissions of Senior advocate, Anand Grover who has been appointed by the apex court as the amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the matter.
He has also taken the Centre’s side and said “What is meant by suo motu is that the Tribunal or its members cannot initiate action or trigger the process on the basis of reading a newspaper report.”
The court has asserted that violation of environmental and forest laws are not disputes between two parties only as it affects the common public.