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India: New Green Tribunal Established

(Jan. 6, 2011) In June 2010, India's Parliament adopted the National Green Tribunal Act (NGT Act), which established a new court, the National Green Tribunal, exclusively for handling cases involving environmental law. The Tribunal began operations on October 19, 2010, at which time some 5,000 environmental cases were pending in India. The Tribunal replaces the country's National Environment Appellate Authority, and with the adoption of the NGT Act, the National Environmental Tribunal Act and the National Environment Appellate Authority Act were repealed. (Andrea Bottorff, India Introduces National Green Tribunal for Environmental Cases, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Oct. 20, 2010),
; Petition Seeks to Declare National Green Tribunal Act Unconstitutional, THE HINDU (Dec. 26, 2010),

The stated purpose of the Tribunal, as set forth in the Act, is:

for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. (The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (No. 19 of 2010) (June 2, 2010),

The new body comprises a chairperson, from 10 to 20 judicial officers, and from 10 to 20 full-time environmental expert members. The chairperson may, if necessary, invite persons with specialized knowledge and experience to appear before the Tribunal in connection with a particular case. Only current or former Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the High Court can qualify to serve as the chairperson and judicial members of the Tribunal. (Id.)

The Tribunal's main bench will be set up in Bhopal, site of the disastrous 1984 gas leak from a Union Carbide factory that resulted in the deaths of about 3,800 people. The Tribunal is to have four circuit benches. The new body will handle cases involving “all environmental laws on air and water pollution, the Environment Protection Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Biodiversity Act.” (J. Balaji, Lok Sabha Passes Green Tribunal Bill, THE HINDU (May 1, 2010),; Chronology, Bhopal Information Center, (last visited Jan. 5, 2010) [a Union Carbide-sponsored website].)

Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests, commented that “the NGT will give the Indian citizen first time judicial remedy as far as environmental damages are concerned. India would be the first country in the world to have such an extensive network of specialized environment courts.” (India First Country in the World to Have Specialized Environment Courts, GITS4U.COM, A number of other countries, including the common law jurisdictions of Australia and New Zealand have such specialized courts, if not as broad a network of them. (Bottorff, supra; see also GEORGE PRING & CATHERINE PRING, GREENING JUSTICE: CREATING AND IMPROVING ENVIRONMENTAL COURTS AND TRIBUNALS (The Access Initiative, World Resources Institute, 2009),
; Additional Resources on Environmental Courts and Tribunals,
(last visited Jan. 5, 2011).)

Establishment of India's new Tribunal has not been without controversy. A law student has filed a writ petition with the Madras High Court, seeking to declare the National Green Tribunal Act unconstitutional. The petitioner contends that the High Courts had exercised their writ jurisdiction to provide remedy in cases involving substantial questions related to the environment, and that the blanket ban imposed on the civil courts' jurisdiction “expressly and the High Courts impliedly” under the new Act “would be impermissible in law,” given that the right to judicial review before the High Court was “recognised as part of the basic structure of the Constitution.” (Petition Seeks to Declare National Green Tribunal Act Unconstitutional, supra.) Moreover, the petitioner argues, “[t]he constitution of [the Tribunal] … by excluding all environmental matters from the jurisdiction of the High Court and Civil Courts would severely affect the right of access to justice to the poor and the needy.” (Id.)