In a landmark order, the National Green Tribunal had asked the Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to take effective steps to discharge its constitutional obligation to advance the mechanism of “precautionary” and sustainable development as well as public trust while dealing with compliance of condition as laid down by ECs (environmental clearance). The NGT was discussing “steps to be taken for effectiveness of monitoring mechanism for compliance of conditions of Environmental Clearance (EC) as per Notification dated 14.09.2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986”, in OA no 837/2018, Sandeep Mittal vs MoEFF&CC & others.
The NGT said that “Environment Impact Assessment or EIA is an essential component of the ‘Precautionary’ as well as the ‘Sustainable Development’ principles. Laying down conditions for EC based on appraisal is not enough unless compliance thereof is duly monitored and ensured with a view to achieve the said object.”
The Tribunal over the years had been burdened by cases related to non-compliance of conditions of EC and lack of monitoring mechanism with regard to pollution and other violations by the authorities, namely the Ministry, state agencies like SEIAA and SPCBs and Central agency like CPCB. After due deliberations last year it had emerged before the Tribunal that no adequate mechanisms for effective and periodical monitoring were put in place due to which environmental violations were rampant in all categories of projects.
The Tribunal also took note of Supreme Court judgment in T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad Vs. Union of India & Ors. (2014) 4 SCC 61 and Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited Vs. Union of India, (2011) 7 SCC 338 that power of the regulator under Section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 is coupled with duty and there is a need for effective monitoring mechanism, the Supreme Court also observed that there is poor monitoring and there are huge gaps in laying down of conditions and enforcement thereof.
The NGT also said that project monitoring apropos of environmental compliance be done at least twice in a year for A category projects and at least once for all other category projects.
However, after the MoEF&CC submission that there “are certain proposals to strengthen the monitoring mechanism,” the NGT bench comprising Chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel and others lamented that the MoEFF&CC submission “only shows insensitivity to the vital constitutional obligation despite repeated directions. Repeated plea of merely having such proposals, without effective enforcement on the ground can hardly be held to be satisfactory.”
The NGT in a scathing remark also averred that if the Ministry had taken effective steps why were these not presented during the hearing. It then directed the MoEF&CC to now take effective steps to discharge its Constitutional obligation to advance “Precautionary” and “Sustainable Development” principles and also the “Public Trust Doctrine”.
The matter will be further heard on December 17.
–Written and compiled by Prasoon Pant