The Indian government introduced a new court system Tuesday that will handle only environmental litigation. The National Green Tribunal, which was established by the Indian Parliament [official website] in June under the National Green Tribunal Act [text, PDF], will consist of a chairperson, and a maximum of 20 judicial officers, as well as 20 environmental experts. Environmental Minister Jairam Ramesh [official website] said that the previous National Environment Appellate Authority [official website] is dissolved and that the new tribunal will address 5,000 environmental cases [India Post report] currently filed in the country. India has been active in emphasizing the importance of environmental issues at a time of rapid business growth, with the government opposing business projects that would harm the environment [AFP report]. In addition, India is a participant in the Convention on Biodiversity [official website], offering its National Green Tribunal as one of several policies that promotes environmental conservation [report text, PDF]. Besides India, only Australia and New Zealand have courts focused on environmental cases.
India has addressed other environmental issues this year. In July, Ramesh apologized [JURIST report] for the government's role in the 2008 disposal of toxic waste from the 1984 Bhopal chemical spill disaster [BBC backgrounder], which he said was done secretly and in an improper manner. Nearly 350 tons of waste were collected following the disaster in which nearly 3,800 people were killed when toxic gas was accidentally released in the middle of the night by a chemical plant owned by a Union Carbide [corporate website] subsidiary company. Upwards of 15,000 others later died from exposure to the gas, and 50,000 were left permanently disabled. The government reportedly removed 40 tons of the waste [AFP report] to Pithampur for disposal, but failed to consider the environmental impact or notify the public about the disposal. In June, a panel of Indian cabinet ministers announced the government would begin the process of cleaning up the disaster site [JURIST report] and would consider increasing compensation for victims of the disaster. The same month, an Indian court handed down the first convictions [JURIST report] related to the toxic spill, sentencing seven men to two years in prison as well as fines for their roles in the disaster.