National Green Tribunal does not posses the power to adjudicate upon the vires or validity of any statutory enactment

High Court of Bombay: While examining the scope of jurisdiction of the National Green Tribunal, the Division Bench comprising of B.P. Dharmadhikari and A.S. Chandurkar, JJ., held that the National Green Tribunal  has the power to adjudicate only on civil matters wherein substantial question relating to environment is involved and does not posses the power to adjudicate upon the vires or validity of any enactment contained in Schedule I to the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 or of the subordinate legislation framed under such enactment, which confers appellate or other jurisdiction upon it.

The petitioner  had sought a declaration  that Rule 17 of the Biological Diversity Rules, 2004 does not apply to the Indian entities or body corporates hence, it should be declares ultra vires and  therefore, unconstitutional, to the extent the said Rule envisages equitable sharing of benefits by the Indian entities. The petitioner further sought a declaration that the Guidelines on Access to Biological Resources and Associated Knowledge and Benefits Sharing Regulations, 2014 be declare ultra vires to Sections 23 and 24 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.  A preliminary objection was raised by the respondent as to the validity of writ petition, which according to him should be  to filed before the National Green Tribunal as per Section 52-A of the Biological Diversity Act .

While judging the validity of the respondent’s contention  that the said petition should be filed before NGT in view of the provisions contained in Section 14 of the NGT Act, 2010, according to which all civil disputes are amenable to its jurisdiction which are involving substantial question relating to environment, the Court, keeping in view the jurisdiction of the National Green Tribunal, held that such authority/tribunal  cannot determine the validity of a statutory legislation being ultra vires or unconstitutional. Relying on the landmark judgments of  Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. v . Nagpur Municipal Corporation, 2012 (1) BCR 526 and Alpha Chem v. State of U.P., 1991 Supp (1) SCC 518,  the Court  held that the scope of the jurisdiction of the Tribunal is not extended  to consider issue of validity or vires of the statutory enactment which confers appellate or other jurisdiction upon it. The Court observed  that the Tribunal while being competent to hear matters as to the validity of enactments, cannot act as a substitute of the High Court and the Supreme Court as the  power to challenge the constitutionality of a statute is maintainable under Article 226 or Article 32 of the Constitution  and it is not open in proceedings before authorities constituted under a statute itself or even in appeal or revision before the High Court from such proceedings.

The Court sought to peruse the relevant provisions  of the NGT Act i.e. Sections 14, 16, 18, 19, and Schedule I thereto  and pointed out that on careful examination of Section 14  it is evident that NGT can only adjudicate upon matters which are civil in nature and involve substantial question relating to environment and it is not conferred with the absolute jurisdiction to adjudicate all types of disputes or even all civil disputes. Affirming the contentions of the petitioners, the Court held that such writ petition does not qualify as a civil case wherein substantial question relating to environment is involved hence the jurisdiction of NGT cannot be evoked. [Central India AYUSH Drugs Manufacturers Association v. State of Maharashtra, 2016 SCC OnLine Bom 8813, decided on 28 September 2016]

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