Published On: Fri, Aug 12th, 2016

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar calls NGT panel ‘blind and biased’: Decoding the role of green tribunal – Firstpost

The founder of Art of Living (AOL) Foundation Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on Thursday termed the expert committee of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) as “blind and biased”.

Ravi Shankar, popularly known as ‘Sri Sri’ tweeted: “Expert Committee of the NGT is blind & biased. We will fight against this untruth. Satellite images & scientific data do not lie.” He has hit back at the green tribunal, a day after an expert committee of the NGT found AOL Foundation guilty of damaging the Yamuna floodplains during its World Culture Festival.

The expert committee’s report that was submitted with the NGT on 10 August has reportedly mentioned that the AOL Foundation’s World Culture Festival has caused damage to the Yamuna floodplains.

“After this a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar directed the expert committee, headed by Shashi Shekhar, secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources, to engage an agency to quantify the damage and furnish a tentative cost for restoration of the area within 45 days,” a source privy to the development at NGT told Firstpost.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. File photo. Reuters

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. File photo. Reuters

Sri Sri’s remark against the green tribunal is not a case in isolation. Time and again several other bodies have questioned NGT’s role from that of a “policy regulator to policing”.

Recently, the NGT asked the Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave to file his reply over alleged violations of green norms during an RSS event — ‘Vaicharik Mahakumbh’ held in Ujjain in May. Dave was the convener of the event.

Is NGT throwing spanner in development?

Taking a dig at NGT in Parliament, Dave had reportedly said that the problem arose when a policy regulator got into policing.

Hinting that developmental works won’t be held up on the pretext of environmental clearances, Dave had said during a question hour in the Rajya Sabha, “Good development and environmental work together can coexist and are not contrary to each other.”

A few experts have criticized NGT for its over enthusiastic role like the one related to banning all the diesel vehicle older than 10 years in a country like India, where many people would not be able to afford new cars.

The Madras High Court, in an order issued in January 2014, restrained the tribunal to take suo motu cognisance of environmental matters and initiate proceedings. “According to the provisions of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, the tribunal has no jurisdiction to act suo motu,” the HC had noted in its order while hearing a PIL.

In June, Kerala High Court stayed a National Green Tribunal Circuit Bench order banning light and heavy diesel vehicles, which were more than 10 years old, in six major cities of Kerala. The order followed after the Association of Automobile Workshops Kerala organised agitations against the National Green Tribunal’s order stating that it would render hundreds of people engaged in workshops across the state jobless.

Similar concerns on NGT’s area of jurisdiction have been raised by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) as well. Earlier, the ministry on several occasions objected the exercise of such powers by the tribunal. An affidavit was also filed by the ministry before the Supreme Court on the matter.

What’s the role of NGT?

Since its inception in 2010, NGT (established under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010) has been functioning on its mandate as a fast-track court for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation in accordance with the principles of ‘sustainable development’, the ‘polluter pays’ principle and the ‘precautionary principle’.

Under the provisions of the NGT Act, there is no clear mention of the tribunal’s mandate to take up matters on its own. It only says that the tribunal should act on grievances brought before it by others. The tribunal’s dedicated jurisdiction in environmental matters shall provide speedy environmental justice and help reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts.

NGT’s view point

In 2014, the NGT in its 142-page judgment on judicial powers of tribunals and on the NGT Act itself, had said, “It will be travesty of justice if it was to be held that the tribunal does not have the power to examine the correctness or otherwise or constitutional validity of a notification issued under one of the Scheduled Acts to the NGT Act. In the absence of such power, there cannot be an effective and complete decision on the substantial environmental issues that may be raised before the Tribunal, in exercise of the jurisdiction vested in the tribunal under the provisions of the Act.”

“The scheme of the NGT Act clearly gives the Tribunal complete independence to discharge its judicial functions, have security of tenure and conditions of service and is possessed of complete capacity associated with Courts,” it mentioned.

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