SC on NGT’s frequent ex-parte orders

Supreme Court: In a set of two civil appeals against National Green Tribunal’s (‘NGT’) ex-parte order and rejection of the review petition, the Division Bench of P.S. Narasimha* and Aravind Kumar, JJ. allowed the appeals and remanded the matter back to the Tribunal. The Court also frowned upon the Tribunal for frequently passing ex-parte orders.

In the present appeals, two orders of the Tribunal were challenged. In the main order an ex- parte order was passed in a suo motu proceeding holding the appellants guilty and payment of compensation was directed. A review petition was filed against the ex-parte order, alleging that an opportunity to be heard was not given before passing an adverse order.

The Court perused the impugned orders and noted that the Tribunal itself noted that notices were not issued by the Tribunal to the Project Proponents. The Court said that the Tribunal, considered it unnecessary to hear the Project Proponent to verify the facts in issue.

The Court said that the Tribunal’s recurrent engagement in unilateral decision making, which provisions ex post facto review hearing and the practice of routinely dismissing the same, has regrettably became a prevailing norm. Hence, the Court said that the Tribunal must tread carefully to avoid the oversight of propriety, the practice of ex-parte orders and the imposition of damages amounting to crores of rupees, is a counterproductive force in the broader mission of environmental safeguarding.

Additionally, the Court said that such ex-parte orders and unilateral decisions have consistently been stayed by the Court. The Court said that the Tribunal can reclaim its standing as a beacon of environmental protection, where well-intentioned endeavours are not simply washed away, when the Tribunal infuses procedural integrity, ensuring that its actions resonate with a harmonious balance between justice and due process.

For the appeals at hand, the Court said that vide order dated 04-03-2022, the Court stayed the Tribunal’s judgment and order and since, two years had passed, and the stay was still operating, the Court set aside the impugned orders dated 31-08-2021 and 26-11-2021 and remanded the matter back to the Tribunal. Thus, the Court allowed the appeals and directed the Tribunal to issue notices to all the necessary parties, hear them in detail, and pass appropriate orders. Further, the Court clarified that the Court did not deal with the merits of the matter and that those guilty of statutory and environmental violation should be subjected to strict scrutiny and legal consequences.

[Veena Gupta v. Central Pollution Control Board, 2024 SCC OnLine SC 103, Decided: on 30-01-2024]

*Judgment Authored by: Justice P.S. Narasimha

Know Thy Judge | Supreme Court of India: Justice Pamidighantam Sri Narasimha

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