India Supreme Court rules environmental tribunal may act without prompting News
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India Supreme Court rules environmental tribunal may act without prompting

The Supreme Court of India ruled Thursday that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) can take suo moto actions, or act without a formal request, based on letters, representations and media reports.

The court delivered the landmark decision in an appeal filed by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai against an NGT order on waste disposal that was issued after the NGT took suo moto cognizance of an article published by an online news source. The government argued that since the NGT is a tribunal created by statute, it cannot act on its own motion, exercise the power of judicial review, or act suo moto in carrying out its duties.

The court rejected the government’s argument and held that the parliament intended the NGT to serve as a “complementary specialised forum to deal with all environmental multi-disciplinary issues” as an original and appellate authority, allowing the supreme court and high courts to avoid intervening under their inherent jurisdiction in such issues. Further, as a specialised forum, NGT is not just an adjudicatory body but is required to execute broader tasks in the “nature of prevention, remedy and amelioration.”

Moreover, the court observed that the NGT’s exercise of suo moto powers varies from that of constitutional courts because the former cannot consider issues beyond the environmental domain. In addition, citing the “Precautionary Principle,” the court stated that if the government fails to “to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation,” the NGT must hold the government accountable and carry out preventive and protective measures itself.

Thus, the court concluded that NGT must be seen as a “sui generis institution”; to hold otherwise would defeat the purpose of creating the NGT.