The Supreme Court has said the constitution of an expert committee does not absolve the National Green Tribunal of its duty to adjudicate matters and the adjudicatory function cannot be assigned to any panel.
The top court set aside an NGT order by which it constituted an expert panel to look into compliances of conditions of environment clearances given to a private firm for the expansion of the capacity of its refinery situated in the petro-chemical complex at Vadinar in Dwarka, Gujarat from 20 MMTPA to 46 MMTPA.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, MR Shah and Hima Kohli said, "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".
It said that the tribunal has been constituted as an expert adjudicatory authority under an Act of Parliament and the discharge of its functions cannot be obviated by tasking committees to carry out a function which vests in the tribunal.
"Having regard to the nature of its appellate power, the NGT has to apply its mind to the substantive grounds of challenge. 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," it said in its order passed on August 31.
The top court, while setting aside the order of NGT restored the plea before the Green panel for fresh disposal while keeping all the rights and contentions of the parties on the merits open.
The NGT had passed the impugned order on June 8.
A plea was filed before the NGT challenging the grant of an environmental clearance on January 5, 2021 in favour of the Nayara Energy Limited for the expansion of the capacity of its refinery.
The bench said the main challenge before the NGT was that the expansion of the refinery was likely to cause an adverse impact on the marine environment, both in terms of the mangroves and marine biology.
The top court said the NGT had noted in its order that its attention was drawn to the (Environment Impact Assessment) EIA/EMP (Environmental Management Plan study prepared by CSIR-NEERI.
It said the NGT had noted the submission of senior counsel for the private firm that all the Environmental Clearances conditions would be duly complied with and due mitigation measures would be taken to ensure the safety of mangroves and marine environment.
The bench said the tribunal was seized with a substantive appeal under the provisions of Section 16 of the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 and 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.
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