The National Green Tribunal’s adjudicatory function cannot be delegated to expert committees: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court stated that the National Green Tribunal’s adjudicatory duty cannot be delegated to committees. The bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, MR Shah, and Hima Kohli observed that tasking committees to carry out a job that vests in the tribunal cannot eliminate the tribunal’s ability to fulfil its powers.

An appeal to the NGT was filed in this matter, challenging the issuance of environmental clearance to a project proponent to develop its refinery capacity in the petrochemical complex at Vadinar, Gujarat’s District Devbhumi Dwarka. The main point of contention was that the extension would negatively influence the marine environment, particularly mangroves and marine biodiversity. The NGT noted in its decision that the project proponent had stated that all EC criteria would be met and that appropriate mitigation measures would be applied to safeguard the safety of mangroves and the marine environment. The Court stated,

“The specific ground before the NGT was that the expansion of the refinery would cause serious hazards to both the marine biology and to mangroves. The NGT observed that the project was already in existence, and there was no continuing grievance against its functioning insofar as environmental norms are concerned. This observation would not conclude the issue as to whether the expansion of the project would have a deleterious impact on the environment.”

In exercising its appellate jurisdiction, the NGT has not addressed the substantive grounds of challenge, according to the bench. It held,

“Constitution of an expert committee does not absolve the NGT of its duty to adjudicate. The adjudicatory function of the NGT cannot be assigned to committees, even expert committees. The decision has to be that of the NGT. The NGT has been constituted as an expert adjudicatory authority under an Act of Parliament. The discharge of its functions cannot be obviated by tasking committees to carry out a function which vests in the tribunal.”

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