India National Green Tribunal landmark judgment on Access to Information
Save Mon Region Federation and Ors Vs Union of India and Ors M.A 104 of 2012. Judgment dated 14-3-2013
The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal headed by Justice swatanter Kumar in a significant judgment clarified on key provisions of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 specifically as to the meaning of the word ‘communication’ of an order of environmental clearance as well as ‘aggrieved person’. It directed that the copy of the entire Environmental clearance (along with the general and specific condition) for all projects which are granted environmental clearance in accordance under the EIA Notification, 2006 be made available to the public through websites, public notice board, publication in local newspaper as well as providing copies to local bodies including panchayats and municipal bodies. It is pertinent to point out that till date no project proponent or the Government (MoEF or State Government) has ever published the entire environmental clearance order in any newspaper despite the statutory requirement in the EIA Notification. In many instances it is not even available at the website of the MoEF. Due to lack of knowledge about the grant of environmental clearance, concerned citizens and groups are unable to file an appeal before the NGT on time. The issue of time is critical since the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 provides for a maximum of 90 days from the date of communication of an order granting environmental clearance to file an appeal before the Tribunal (termed as period of ‘limitation’). Many environmental clearances granted to potentially destructive projects go legally unchallenged in view of lack of information of the approval granted. The NGT has held that the limitation as prescribed under Section 16 of the NGT Act, shall commence from the date the order is communicated and not when the order is passed. The NGT noted ‘ communication of the order has to be by putting it in the public domain for the benefit of the public at large’. The NGT took strong exception to lack of transparency in the MOEF specifically with respect to its website. The bench observed ‘it can safely be concluded that all is not well with the website/portal of the MoEF. It is not only the administrative duty but a statutory obligation of the MoEF to place such (Environmental Clearance) orders in the public domain to ensure their accessibility to the public at large”. The NGT has held that the obligation to ‘communicate’ the order as widely as possible arises in view of the fact that ‘any person’ is entitled to file an appeal before the NGT irrespective of whether the person has any direct and indirect interest in a given project.
The Judgment is a step towards ensuring greater access to environmental information and at the same time ensures that that the remedy of appeal as provided in the NGT Act is made effective and doors of the Tribunal are not shut on grounds of narrow interpretation of locus standi and limitation.
For Summary of the judgment please see: http://ercindia.org/index.php/latest-updates/latest/658-dire... For the full judgment please see: http://www.greentribunal.in/judgment/104-2012%28MA%2914Mar2013final_order.pdf