When a new Chairperson takes over one of the Tribunals, in a crucial period, there is a huge expectation. The current operations of the National Green Tribunal have turned out to be pedestrian. The quality of effort to understand the real-world problems required to provide judgements is absolutely lacking. There is an air of complete knowledge which is at best a notion. There is very little understanding of the scale of impacts and levels of impunity. In the context of rapid climate change, unliveable levels of pollution and a tribunal mired with ignorance and problems of cognisance we need quick redressal.
Take for instance this violation taking place under the nose of the Supreme Court, the dust and noise being generated in the rebuilding of Pragati Maidan, the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation’s premium land. The erudite members first observe
32. On a careful examination of the pleadings, the documents and the submissions of the learned counsels for the parties, prima facie we do notice certain infractions in the grant of the Environmental Clearance. The first of such infractions appears to be that the preparatory works on project site had been taken up before the grant of the Consent to Establish under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. This is undisputed and stands substantiated by the affidavit filed on behalf of the DPCC. The other is having commenced with the baseline studies at the site from the month of March, 2017, based on the standard ToR. Even this infraction is not disputed but the stand taken by the MoEF&CC and the project proponent is that a second EIA Report was submitted by the project proponent to the MoEF&CC on 26th June, 2017 that contained the baseline data for the months of April, May and June, 2017. This was considered and accepted by the EAC.
After having observed so, the expectation would be that the tribunal would question the appraisal authority on their legitimacy and propriety in accepting anything presented to them, charging the PCB and the CPCB for allowing violations to continue without having taken any action, seek action against all those who have been involved in violating the basic environmental laws of the land. The unfortunate conclusion one needs to draw is that the Tribunal perhaps does not understand that it is such blatant violation by the powerful that results in complaints of over 3000 activities during the recent ban and emboldens violators. The tribunal is therefore theoretically acquiesced to this violation since it blandly concludes
38. In the parting, we may observe that the project being of a huge magnitude, it is imperative for the MoEF&CC and the other regulatory authorities to ensure that each of the conditions of the Environmental Clearance are meticulously complied with by monitoring the project closely and not leave it upon the project proponent alone to submit its compliance report as contemplated in the Environmental Clearance provided under clause 11 & 12 of part B of the general conditions.
39. We accordingly direct so. Physical inspections of the project site shall be held periodically to ensure that the conditions of the Environmental Clearance are complied with both during the construction and the operational phases.
This is right in the capital. The members can visit the site to know the impacts and how it would contribute to the pollution, physically systems can be established to showcase with specific responsibilities given. Thus, the Tribunal has neither helped the environment of Delhi nor the environmental governance processes in the country. One wonders if Capital drives the Capital or norms established by the constitution?
We accordingly direct so.
So little for the direction in this order except to exonerate the violators. If one were to understand the import of this direction, it means that periodic inspection needs to be done. What great wisdom! The right to appeal under the act is provided precisely because these institutions are moribund or completely compromised. Otherwise would it have been possible for violations in front of the Supreme Court. Now the relief that has been provided to an applicant is that a direction has been given by the Tribunal to the agencies to work! Please do your normal duties.
It is further interesting to see the abject poverty of justice. In a totally different context of industry and power plant. An appeal was filed against Bhushan Steel Industries in Sambalpur District of Odisha. This company has a long list of violations and often remarked of making a periodic-table of violations. When these aspects were systematically presented the wise men dismissed saying they have a solution. Their order
“Allegations in this application is that conditions of environmental clearance have not been adhered to. If it so, it will be open to the MoEF&CC and CPCB to monitor the compliance conditions of the EC by way of a mechanism already suggested in Appeal 25/2017 Verhaen Khanna vs Union of India and Ors vide order dated 09.10.2018. The applicants may represent the said authority. One would imagine that the order mentioned above will substantiate the process and there is a remedy. The lackadaisical attitude is visible when you find this for the mentioned order “We have heard the learned counsels for the parties. The order will be uploaded on the website on or before 29.10.2018 after discussion among the Members of the Bench.”
The case discussed above are from the “substantial” final orders of this very same case.
The wise members did not waste their time on what is the kind of pollutants, in which context or whether there is a history of compliance and yet there are live problems of people affected by the project but point out to an order which has itself not been properly checked. The NGT registry also needs to have some knowledge base to check if the dates of order and the content represent the intent.
This is almost like the early days when the National Appellate Authority was giving a false impression that people are by and large happy with the environment and are not coming to the authority. The Tribunal must Act in its full power to protect the environment, livelihoods of people dependent on these ecosystems, show stewardship and not play the role of a Superintendent in office.
Such is pathetic situation with several cases of critical importance to our environment and life support systems and I have no hesitation in pointing to pedestrianism in environmental justice.
So, we are back to square one!