NEW DELHI: The Centre and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) have locked horns over cleaning of the Ganga. After being repeated pulled up by the tribunal for failing to clean the river, the Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has moved the Prime Minister’s Office, complaining that the NGT is the biggest hurdle in its cleaning initiative.
The Central government has been mulling to curtail powers of the NGT by bringing an amendment to the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.
In a recent presentation to the PMO, Uma Bharati-led water resources ministry—tasked with Ganga rejuvenation—outlined regulation and administrative “constraints” in cleaning the river
A presentation of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has listed many constraints such as “pricing of municipal water, poor regulation of industries and ground water extraction, mandatory use of treated water” for cleaning of the Ganga, but the topmost reason in the list was “role of the National Green Tribunal (NGT)”.
On July 13, NGT came out with an exhaustive and landmark judgment on cleaning of the Ganga and gave a two-year deadline to authorities for setting up sewage treatment plants. It also called for demarcation of 100 metres area from the edge of Ganga as no development on part of stretch between Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
It is not the first time that a government department has voiced reservations about the role of NGT. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC)— the nodal ministry for administrative works of the green tribunal, has also not been happy with it. “Though cleaning of the Ganga is led by the Centre, it hugely depends on states where the river passes from. A lot of times, the ministry is unfairly targeted which hampers our work. If a balance is not maintained, the cleaning work will seriously suffer,” said a senior water resources ministry official.
A section in ministry believes there is a clear case of judicial overreach against NGT and has favoured amending the NGT Act. However, any such attempts have met with stiff resistance from civil society. The NGT enjoys civil powers, equivalent to those of the high courts, for protection of environment, conservation of forest and other natural resources.
Environmentalists allege that the government has brought rules to curtail NGT’s independence. They point out that the Finance Act 2017 has added a provision in the NGT Act 2010 to dilute it. Through that, the government came out with ‘The Tribunal, Appellate Tribunals and Other Authorities (Qualifications, Experiences and other conditions of service of members) Rules, 2017’, which weakens its independence.
“There is nothing in the provisions of the NGT Act that directly or even by necessary implication is indicative of any external control over the National Green Tribunal in discharge of its judicial functions. This situation is now to change with the new rules issued by the Ministry of Finance. In new rules, there is clear mention of the fact that the tribunals are under the ministry,” said environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta.