Read Order: Sanghar Zuber Ismail vs. Ministry of Environment

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, September 7, 2021:The Supreme Court has ruled that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been constituted as an expert adjudicatory authority under an Act of Parliament, and therefore, the discharge of its functions cannot be obviated by tasking committees to carry out a function which vests in the tribunal.

While restoring the matter to the file of NGT for fresh disposal, the three Judge Bench of Justice D.Y Chandrachud, Justice M.R Shah and Justice HimaKohli observed that the NGT has merely based its conclusion on the statement which has been made by the project proponent and has not conducted an independent appraisal of the grounds of challenge.

The observation came pursuant to observation passed by the NGT on the validity of environmental clearance (EC) on expansion of refinery in Gujarat without concluding the issue as to whether such expansion of the project would have a deleterious impact on the environment.

The dispute arose from the grant of an EC in favour of the second respondent for the expansion of the capacity of its refinery situated in the petro-chemical complex at Vadinar, District DevbhumiDwarka, Gujarat.

The main challenge before the NGT,was that the expansion was likely to cause an adverse impact on the marine environment, both in terms of the mangroves and marine biology.

The NGT however proceeded to observe that it did not find any ground to interfere with the grant of the EC. It, however, directed the project proponent to ensure that all necessary safeguards are adopted and EC conditions are duly complied with.

Accordingly, a three member Committee was constituted in that regard, which came to be challenged under present appeal. 

The Top Court noted that the specific ground before the NGT was that the expansion of the refinery will cause serious hazards to both the marine biology and to mangroves.

While opining that the NGT has failed to consider an issue as to whether the expansion of the project would have a deleterious impact on the environment, the Top Court said that the NGT merely recorded its observation that the project was already in existence and there was no continuing grievance against its functioning insofar as environmental norms are concerned.

The Apex Court therefore observed that the NGT has not dealt with the substantive grounds of challenge in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction and constituted an expert committee to adjudicate the same.

Constitution of an expert committee does not absolve the NGT of its duty to adjudicate, and the adjudicatory function of the NGT cannot be assigned to committees, even expert committees, added the Court.

Hence, the Top Court restored the appeal to the file of the NGT for disposal afresh.

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