The National Green Tribunal was established with the aim of providing speedy and effective disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources. The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 enables an individual to enforce any legal right relating to environment and contains provisions for grant of relief or compensation to persons and property and for restitution of the environment.
Due to an increase in the number of environmental cases pending before the High Courts, a need was felt for the establishment of separate environmental courts to lessen the burden of High Courts from such cases. The Supreme Court in various cases such as M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India, A.P. Pollution Control Board II v. Prof. M.V. Nayadu reiterated the need for the establishment of environmental courts with experts as members. In pursuance of a request by the Supreme Court, the Law Commission submitted its 186th Law Report which recommended the setting up of environmental courts having both original and appellate jurisdiction relating to environmental laws.
As a result the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 was enacted to give effect to the right to healthy environment, which has been construed to be a part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India by various judicial pronouncements including Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar as well as Directive Principles of State Policy and fundamental duty relating to environment contained in Articles 48-A and 51-A(g) respectively and also to effectuate and implement the resolutions taken at the two conferences i.e. the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm and the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held at Rio de Janeiro, in which India had participated. Accordingly, the National Green Tribunal Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Jairam Ramesh, the then Union Minister for Environment and Forest, on 31-7-2009 which was passed by both the Houses of Parliament and received the assent of the President on 2-6-2010. The National Green Tribunal was established under the Act having its Principal Bench at Delhi (Northern) and Zonal Benches at Bhopal (Central), Pune (Western), Chennai (Southern), Kolkata (Eastern). Hon’ble Mr Justice Lokeshwar Singh Panta was appointed as the first Chairperson of the Tribunal. Hon’ble Mr Justice Swatanter Kumar is the current Chairperson of the Tribunal who was appointed to the post in 2012. India is now the third country after New Zealand and Australia to have special environmental courts.
The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 on its enactment repealed the National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995 and the National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997. All the authorities under the Acts have been dissolved and pending cases have been transferred to the National Green Tribunal. The Law Commission suggested such a replacement because the two Acts remained only on paper. Legislation as regards the National Environment Tribunal Act was never notified therefore no Tribunal was constituted. On the other hand the National Environment Appellate Authority Act was criticised for its limited mandate of providing a forum to review the administrative decision on environment impact assessment. Moreover, no judicial member had been appointed to the NEAA since 2000.
The National Green Tribunal enjoys wide powers under the Act. The Tribunal in its procedure is guided by the rules of natural justice and is given the same powers as are vested in a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 while trying a suit in certain matters. The Tribunal is not bound the rules of evidence contained in the Evidence Act, 1872. The Tribunal has original as well as appellate jurisdiction. As regards original jurisdiction the Tribunal can hear all civil cases where substantial questions relating to environment and the implementation of the enactments specified in Schedule I of the Act are involved. As regards appellate jurisdiction the Tribunal can decide appeals against certain orders and decisions specified under Section 16 of the Act. A provision for appeal to the Supreme Court is made under Section 22 of the Act.
Perhaps the most laudable provisions of the Act include the provision for the appointment of Expert Members, having the necessary qualifications, alongside judicial members to assist them with the technical issues which are inherently involved in environmental cases thus ensuring furtherance of justice and environmental protection. The Act also recognises certain principles such as no-fault principle or absolute liability as laid down by the Supreme Court; sustainable development i.e. regenerating, maintaining and improving natural resources for future use; precautionary principle based on the philosophy prevention is better than cure and; polluter pays principle which makes the polluter liable for the costs of pollution. The Tribunal is also instrumental in making important decisions relating to environment. For example, the National Green Tribunal had put a ban on diesel vehicles which were as old as 10 years or more in Delhi. The Tribunal proposed a plan for rejuvenating the Yamuna River in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The Tribunal constituted certain committees and issued directions, based on the reports of the Committee, in accordance with which the construction and mining activities are to be carried out.
However, the Act is not free from pitfalls. The Act is often criticised on the grounds that only five Benches have been constituted, for the entire country, under it which makes accessibility to these benches difficult. The Tribunal lacks support from State and Central Governments. The State and the Central Pollution Boards are inefficient as a result of which, a lot of times, there is delay in implementation of the directions and decisions of the Tribunal. However, it cannot be denied that the pros of the Act are more than its cons. And the National Green Tribunal Act has been able to achieve its aim to a great extent.
 (1986) 2 SCC 176.
 (1996) 3 SCC 212.
 (2001) 2 SCC 62.
 (1991) 1 SCC 598.
 M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (Shriram – Oleum Gas), (1987) 1 SCC 395.