How Green will be the Green Tribunal? Special

Posted Feb 23, 2010 by Armstrong Vaz
Launch of Critique of the National Green Tribunal Bill 2009 and Presentation on Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill 2009 will be held at Institute Piedade Mahatma hall, Gandhi Road Panaji, Goa on 26th February at 3pm.
Dr Claude Alvares, Director Goa Foundation and Krishnendu Mukherjee, Advocate will be the speakers.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: On the 29th July 2009, Sri Jairam Ramesh, the Environment minister introduced the National Green Tribunal Bill 2009 to the Lok Sabha. The intention of the Bill is to establish a “tribunal for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and for the conservation of forests and other natural resources”. The Bill is tabled to become law in the coming weeks.
The Access Initiative, an international coalition of environmental lawyers and others working in the field of environment law, have grave concerns that the Bill being passed in its present form, without a proper period of public consultation, may well end up being a regressive step in relation to the effective protection of India’s environment. The Access Initiative-India Coalition have produced a critique of the Bill entitled “Concerns and Suggestions on the National Green Tribunal Bill 2009”. The major criticisms of the Bill are as follows:
• The Bill restricts those who can approach it for relief. Most troubling is that it generally only allows those who have suffered from environmental damage to bring cases. This excludes those who have traditionally brought cases to protect the environment to the Indian Courts, concerned individuals or NGO’s who file cases to ensure that environmental damage is stopped before it begins or to stop harmful damage from continuing.
• The Tribunal lacks any power to quash environment clearances. This is a major omission and breaches Indian law in failing to recognise the principle that every precaution must be taken to ensure that environmental damage does not occur. This indicates the focus of the Tribunal which is for compensation for damage, rather than prevention of the damage in the first place.
• The jurisdiction of the Bill is likely to mean that many situations where environmental damage is caused will not be stopped or compensated. The Bill does not clearly define many terms, including its jurisdiction to only consider environmental damage which is “substantial” or relates to a “point source of pollution” or affects the “community at large”. The use of these terms in the Bill is likely to lead to the fact that, for instance, cumulative impacts from a number of different sources affecting a group of people may not be stopped or compensated.
• The judges on the Tribunal do not have the requisite qualifications to ensure that, often, complex issues as to cause, consequence, or value of environmental damage are properly decided. There is no provision in the Bill for the appointment of ecologists, sociologists or others with experience in the environment to assist in deciding these questions.
• The cost and time-limit provisions in the Bill will ensure that many meritorious cases will not be brought to the Tribunal. The Bill contains costs provisions which will dissuade applicants from bringing cases. It also contains time-limits which preclude many of the consequences of environmental damage being seen before the time-limit expires and does not allow applicants to obtain the evidence of environmental damage that is required.
Health Warning- These and other omissions in the current Bill may seriously harm our environment. Please obtain a copy of the critique at Write to your member of parliament, or hold a meeting.