Case load on NGT low, No need to set up Benches in every State; High Court’s jurisdiction unaffected: Supreme Court upholds constitutionality of NGT Act

Supreme Court: In the case where the Madhya Pradesh High Court Advocates Bar Association and the District Bar Association, both with their registered offices at Jabalpur, had raised a challenge to the vires of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 on various grounds, the bench of KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ has held,

A. 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.

B. The remedy of direct appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 22 of the NGT Act is intra vires the Constitution of India.

C. Section 3 of the NGT Act is not a case of excessive delegation of power to the Central Government.

D. 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.

Detailed Analysis

A. Whether the NGT ousts the High Court’s jurisdiction under Sections 14 & 22 of the NGT Act?

Nothing contained in the NGT Act either impliedly or explicitly, ousts the jurisdiction of the High Courts under Article 226 and 227 and the power of judicial review remains intact and unaffected by the NGT Act. 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.

B. 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?

It is also worthy of attention that the total disposal by all Benches of the NGT is 2799 cases during 12 months i.e., March, 2021 to February, 2022. The pendency figure for this period is 2237 only. The rate of disposal being higher than the pendency, no major backlog issue is seen before the NGT. 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.

In such a situation, the location of the Bench to the extent possible, should be convenient and accessible to litigants of all three States. Bhopal is centrally located in relation to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, & Chhattisgarh. Moreover, Bhopal being the capital of Madhya Pradesh, is well connected and accessible without much difficulty.

“This would commend to us that Bhopal is a sound locational choice for the NGT which caters to the litigants from three States.”

Further, the low case load in the Bhopal Bench, do not match with the strident plea of the petitioners to locate the Bench at Jabalpur. If the NGT Benches are set up in all 28 States and 8 union territories as is suggested by the petitioners, the judges and other members in these forums might be left twiddling their thumbs. Accordingly, no basis is seen to allow one NGT bench in every State.

“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.”

C. 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?

Even when a direct appeal to the Supreme Court is provided by a statute against the decision of a tribunal, the remedy under Article 226 or 227 before the High Court remains unextinguished. Moreover, the Appeal under Section 22 of the NGT Act, is limited to the grounds under Section 100 of the CPC and the Supreme Court does not function as a regular first appellate Court. Subject to discretion being exercised, the affected litigants can move High Court under Article 226 or 227 and in such cases, a SLP under Article 136 of the Constitution could also be maintained to the Supreme Court from the High Court’s verdict.

“With such choices being available for a party no rational justification is found for striking down Section 22 of the Act which provides for a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.”

On the ground raised by the Petitioners about Supreme Court being inaccessible, the Court observed that it would equally apply to litigants, from all across the country, who have to travel to the Supreme Court, either by way of Article 136 or Article 32 or any other provision. Despite the provision under Article 130 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has no other bench away from Delhi.

“In these circumstances by pleading inaccessibility, the petitioners are also incidentally questioning, the location of the Supreme Court at New Delhi. Such a contention on the face of it would be irrational and not acceptable.”

D. Whether Section 3 of the NGT Act is ultra vires to the Constitution as suffering from the vice of excessive delegation?

The operationalization of the NGT, including the location of its Benches, was closely monitored by the Supreme Court. Further, the Union Government is to specify the ordinary place of sitting of NGT and its territorial jurisdiction under Section 3 of the NGT Act being mindful of the demand for environment litigation within a particular territorial area. 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. We are therefore of the opinion that Section 3 of the NGT Act is not a case of excessive delegation.”

[Madhya Pradesh High Court Advocates Bar Association v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 639, decided on 18.05.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice Hrishikesh Roy


Counsels

For Petitioners: Advocate Siddhartha R. Gupta, the learned counsel for the petitioners.

For UOI: Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati

For State of Madhya Pradesh: Advocate Sunny Choudhary

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