NGT U/s. 14 And 22 Of NGT Act Does Not Oust HC's Jurisdiction Under Articles 226/227 – SC Upholds Constitutional Validity Of NGT Act
The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of challenged provisions of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.
The Bench comprising of Justice KM Joseph and Justice Hrishikesh Roy observed that the National Green Tribunal under Sections 14 and 22 of the NGT Act do not oust the High Court's jurisdiction under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution as the same is the basic part of the Constitution, thereby rejecting the plea of the Petitioners.
The Petitioners who were Madhya Pradesh High Court Advocates Bar Association and District Bar Association with their registered office at Jabalpur had filed Writ Petition under Article 32 before the Supreme Court. They had raised a challenge to the vires of the NGT Act through various contentions, which are also the issues that were dealt with by the Apex Court, which are –
i) The NGT ousts the High Court's jurisdiction under Section 14 and 22 of the NGT Act;
ii) There must be a seat of the NGT in every state, If yes, should they invariably be established at the principal seat of the High Court, which in this case would be Jabalpur instead of Bhopal;
iii) Remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court from the decisions of the NGT under Section 22 of the NGT Act is ultra vires the Constitution; and
iv) Section 3 of the NGT Act is ultra vires to the Constitution as it suffers from the vice of excessive delegation.
Attorney General Mr. KK Venugopal appeared for Union of India along with ASG Ms. Aishwarya Bhati, Counsel Mr. Siddhartha R. Gupta appeared for the Petitioners and Counsel Mr. Sunny Choudhary appeared for the State of MP before the Apex Court.
- Preface to NGT Act
The Bench noted that the NGT Act had come into effect after Supreme Court repeatedly urged Parliament through various judgments to establish specialized environmental Courts with qualified Judges and technical experts on the Bench.
The Supreme Court had also put forward that there should be direct appeals to the Apex Court from such environmental Courts. The Law Commission then recommended the creation of a specialized court to deal with the environmental issues. The Law Commission expressed the view that it is not convenient for the High Courts and the Supreme Court to make local inquiries or to receive evidence.
The Bench also noted that the role of NGT is not simply adjudicatory but also had the equally vital role that is preventive, ameliorative, or the remedial category.
Further, the Court held that the NGT came into existence as a sui generis institution established for the enforcement of environmental rights emanating from Article 21 of the Constitution.
i) Issue 1
- Whether the NGT ousts the High Court's jurisdiction under Sections 14 & 22 of the NGT Act?
The Bench placed reliance on L. Chandra Kumar vs. Union of India, where it was held that the power of judicial review under Articles 226 and 227, and 32 are a part of the basic structure of our Constitution and the same is inviolable.
The Court further also held that in the context of L Chandra Kumar's case, the High Courts have been entertaining petitions under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution against the orders of NGT.
The Bench held that nothing contained in the NGT Act either impliedly or explicitly ousts the jurisdiction of High Courts under Article 226 and 227 and the power of judicial review remains intact and unaffected by the NGT Act.
Thus, the Bench observed, "The prerogative of writ jurisdiction of High Courts is neither taken away nor it can be ousted, as without any doubt, it is definitely a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The High Court's exercise their discretion in tandem with the law depending on the facts of each particular case. Since the High Court's jurisdiction remain unaffected, the first question is answered in the negative, against the petitioners."
ii) Issue 2
- Whether a seat of the NGT should be in every State? If yes, should they invariably be established at the principal seat of High Court, which in this case would be Jabalpur instead of Bhopal?
The Court noted that the Petitioners had placed heavy reliance on S.P. Sampath Kumar vs. Union of India where Justice Bhagwati had made an observation with respect to Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) where the volume of litigation is substantially higher.
The Court noted that in this case, the principle of proportionality must be applied.
The Bench further added that CAT have 17 Benches and 21 Circuit Benches as opposed to only 5 Benches of NGT. The NGT caters to a limited number of cases unlike the CAT, where the volume of cases is substantially higher.
The Court referred to data available on the NGT's website which reflects the pendency of cases before the NGT, which shows a total of only 2237 cases pending as on 28th February 2022 with 48,000 cases pending before CAT as on 6th March 2020.
"The strikingly small 107 cases in the NGT's Bhopal Bench must also receive our due attention. These data do not provide for a reasonable basis to entertain a prayer for a NGT Bench at Jabalpur or for that matter, an individual NGT Bench in each of those three States. Accordingly, no basis is seen to allow one NGT bench in every State," the Bench held.
The Court also observed, "The low case load in the Bhopal Bench, do not match with the strident plea of the petitioners to locate the Bench at Jabalpur. This is therefore perceived as an attempt by the petitioners (who are practicing lawyers in Jabalpur), to primarily espouse their professional interest. No other rational basis is seen for the Association's plea for relocation of the NGT Bench to Jabalpur from Bhopal. We see no justification to grant such relief to the petitioners and the second segment of issue B is accordingly answered against them."
iii) Issue 3
- Whether the remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court from the decisions of the NGT under Section 22 of the NGT Act is ultra vires to the Constitution? Whether an appeal mechanism be provided to the High Courts from the decisions of the NGT?
The Court in this context held, that against the decision of NGT, the remedy under Article 226 or 227 before the High Court remains unextinguished, the Bench thus opined –
"Also importantly, the right to appeal before the High Court is a creature of the statute and is not an inherent right. The provision for appeal to High Court should not therefore be created by issuing a writ of Mandamus as that would be legislating through judicial order, and would impinge upon the well-founded concept of separation of powers."
The Court observed that the remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court under the NGT Act from the NGT's decision cannot be seen as denial of justice to the litigants in the field of environmental law.
The Bench also held that by pleading inaccessibility, the Petitioners are also incidentally questioning the location of the Supreme Court at New Delhi and such a contention on the face of it would be irrational and not acceptable. In this context, the Court further observed –
"It cannot also be overlooked that it is the Supreme Court itself which had recommended the setting up of environmental court with direct appeals to the Supreme Court. This would also support the proposition on constitutional validity of Section 22 of the NGT Act and that it is not ultra vires to the Constitution. Consequently, the answer to both aspects of the question C is answered in favour of the respondents."
iv) Issue 4
- Whether Section 3 of the NGT Act is ultra vires to the Constitution as suffering from the vice of excessive delegation?
The Bench in this context held that the Government is also to be guided by the objects of the Act as also the directions given by the Supreme Court from time to time. Since, the Government is acting on the issue with the guidance of this Court, and the Government is obliged to follow the objectives of the NGT Act, adequate safeguards are seen to guide the government.
Thus, the Bench observed that Section 3 of the NGT Act is not a case of excessive delegation.
The Court while concluding gave the following observations –
- The National Green Tribunal under Section 14 & 22 of the NGT Act does not oust the High Court's jurisdiction under Article 226 & 227 as the same is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
- The remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 22 of the NGT Act is intra vires the Constitution of India.
- Section 3 of the NGT Act is not a case of excessive delegation of power to the Central Government.
- The seat of the NGT benches can be located as per exigencies and it is not necessary to locate them in every State. The prayer for relocating the Bhopal NGT to Jabalpur is unmerited and is rejected.
The Court thus with the aforesaid findings dismissed the Writ Petition.