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Right to life Vs economic interest of a state or an individual
The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) mulls to amend the National Green Tribunal Act, which was passed during the UPA regime. The move will result in dilution of the powers of the body. According to sources, preliminary discussions for amending the law have begun.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is the only judicial body below the Supreme Court before which cases related to environment and forests can be filed. NGT is also the first recourse anybody except the project proponent has to be heard on any environmental and forest clearances.

Ever since its inception, the tribunal has had trouble with MoEF of UPA on various counts - to begin with, even on providing the infrastructure needed to run it. The Supreme Court had to step in and force the government to act when some judicial members of the tribunal resigned.

The preliminary discussions on amending the Act have been held and the NDA government is considering setting up a committee to review the law. Another senior official in the ministry said the move follows deliberations at the highest level in the government. One of the ideas proposed in the discussions was to make the existing judicial tribunal into an administrative one under the ministry itself.

In one of the recent cases, the Union government and the project promoters questioned the NGT's powers to question the correctness of environmental rules and regulations. The NGT over-ruled them, but the government is considering appealing the judgment before the Supreme Court.

On several occasions in the past two years, the tribunal has hauled up several environment ministry officials, as well as state authorities, for falling foul of law. In a recent judgment, the tribunal even criticised the environment minister for non-application of mind in a case.

To make matters worse the NGT on Aug 2, 2014 has upheld its ban on coal mining in Meghalaya noting that right to life is far more significant than economic interest of a state or an individual.

"Article 21 of the Constitution, gives prominence to the right to life, than any other interest including economic interest of the State or the individuals. Economic interests cannot take precedence over the fundamental right to life and to live in a healthy environment. More so, when the reason for such precedence is that non-permitting of an illegal activity is likely to hurt a section of the society economically," a bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar said.

The bench said that even the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that "even a state cannot be permitted to take shelter of the economic limitations where it comes to protection of life and liberty of the citizens of the country."

The no-nonsense and proactive steps taken by NGT had rattled the 'Development' lobby to a great extant. In last one decade Gujarat was notorious for its gross neglect of environmental issues. A few of the nation's worst polluted clusters are in Gujarat.

A Chief Secretary of Gujarat once chided the then Union Environment secretary for raising the ecological issue of Alang's ship breaking yard. If environmental regulations are imposed, the ship breaking business will go to China or Bangladesh was the excuse given by the Gujarat govt.

The leaked IB report on environmental issues clearly supported the polluters. 3% loss in GDP was also attributed to the green lobby. Money is the mantra.

Immediately after assuming charge as MoEF, Prakash Javdekar lifted the embargo enforced on some of the worst polluted clusters across India including Vapi and Ankleshwar in Gujarat. These clusters continue to be environmental nightmares. Environmental laws are regularly violated as a rule by the industries with the active collaboration of state governments.

It looks that the new NDA government is in a hurry to usher in development at any cost. How can it tolerate a nonsensical argument that right to life and to live in a healthy environment were far more significant than economic interest of a state or an individual?

How can the economic interests of big corporates be sub-ordinated to fundamental rights of citizens. Hence the proposed assault on NGT.

Can an aadivasi move to the NGT to complain about the public farce conducted in Lanjigarh a week ago to further the economic interest of Vedanta Alumina if NGT functions under the administrative control of MoEF? The days of an independent NGT are numbered.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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