Something remarkable happened this year in India! The world’s most populous democracy, a rapidly industrializing nation that faces a vast number of serious environmental challenges, has created a specialized court with expert members having extraordinary powers to provide remedies to environmental problems: The National Green Tribunal (NGT).
Making the NGT functional required a hard-fought struggle. Established by the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010, the NGT was designed as a replacement for the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA), an environmental tribunal that, with a single judicial member, had ruled favorably on a number of environmental petitions. However, for months, the Government of India failed to appoint judicial and expert members to the NGT and provide it with necessary components, such as courtrooms and staff. To make matters worse, the NGT Act abolished the NEAA at the same time it created the NGT, leaving dozens of environmental petitions languishing with no court to rule on urgent matters. It required a sustained legal effort early this year, lead by ELAW partner Ritwick Dutta, who went to the Supreme Court of India, to force the Government of India to comply with the NGT Act and breathe life into the new tribunal.
With everything finally in place, the NGT began hearing cases and issuing judgments in late summer of 2011. Several judgments have been exceptional, including one that requires the Government of India to enact national standards for exposure to radiation hazards.
For me, the most exciting part is that ELAW partners will be leading the way in making sure the NGT fulfills its promise of taking quick action to remedy environmental problems in India. Already, ELAW partners Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary are lead counsel on more than 30 petitions before the NGT, with dozens more being readied for filing. The petitions deal with environmental problems across a wide area of India, including the States of Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and seek to stop environmentally destructive projects such as new coal-fired power plants, and large hydroelectric dams in remote forested areas. Providing scientific support to many of these cases will likely make 2012 a busy and rewarding year.