The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld several provisions of a statute under which the National Green Tribunal (NGT) was set up and ruled out a plea to have an NGT branch in every state and union territory.
A bench comprising Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy, while dismissing the plea of the Madhya Pradesh High Court Advocates Bar Association, also held that the provision of an appeal directly in the top court against an order of the NGT was "intra-vires" and does not oust the high courts' power under writ jurisdictions as it was part of the "basic structure".
"Importantly, the right to appeal before the High Court is a creature of the statute and is not an inherent right. The provision for appeal to the High Court should not, therefore, be created by issuing a writ of Mandamus as that would be legislating through a judicial order, and would impinge upon the well-founded concept of separation of powers," the judgement said.
It cannot also be overlooked that it is the Supreme Court itself that had recommended the setting up of an environmental court with direct appeals to it, the bench said.
"This would also support the proposition on the constitutional validity of Section 22 of the NGT Act and that it is not ultra vires to the Constitution," it held.
Dismissing the plea of the bar body, which also sought a branch of NGT in all 28 States and 8 union territories, Justice Roy, writing the verdict, said there were 2237 pending cases in five NGT branches in the country.
"With the low caseload, if the NGT Benches are set up in all 28 States and 8 union territories as is suggested by the petitioners, the judges and other members in these forums might be left twiddling their thumbs. Accordingly, no basis is seen to allow one NGT bench in every State," the 37-page verdict said.
The bench answered in negative whether section 3 of the NGT Act, which deals with setting up of the green panel, was ultra vires to the Constitution as suffering from the vice of excessive delegation.
"It must be borne in mind that the operationalization of the NGT, including the location of its Benches, was closely monitored by the Supreme Court. It is further seen that the Union Government is to specify the ordinary place of sitting of NGT and its territorial jurisdiction under Section 3 of the NGT Act being mindful of the demand for environmental litigation within a particular territorial area.
"The Government is also to be guided by the objects of the Act as also the directions given by the Supreme Court from time to time. Since the Government is acting on the issue with the guidance of this Court, and the Government is obliged to follow the objectives of the NGT Act, adequate safeguards are seen to guide the government. We are therefore of the opinion that Section 3 of the NGT Act is not a case of excessive delegation," it held.
It is also noteworthy that nothing contained in the NGT Act either impliedly or explicitly, ousts the jurisdiction of the High Courts under Articles 226 and 227 and the power of judicial review remains intact and unaffected by the statute, it said.
It also rejected the prayer for relocating the Bhopal NGT to Jabalpur on the ground that the high court was located in the latter city and said it was without merit.
"The low caseload in the Bhopal Bench does not match with the strident plea of the petitioners to locate the Bench at Jabalpur. This is therefore perceived as an attempt by the petitioners (who are practicing lawyers in Jabalpur), to primarily espouse their professional interest. No other rational basis is seen for the Association's plea for relocation of the NGT Bench to Jabalpur from Bhopal," it said.
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