Any aggrieved person can approach NGT

MUMBAI: In a major boost to environmental activism, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has given the widest interpretation to who an ‘aggrieved person’ can be. The NGT held that any and every citizen has the right to approach the tribunal against any entity with complaints of breaches of environmental laws.

The ruling by NGT, Pune, on May 4, comes as a victory to citizens who strive to ensure that environmental laws are implemented. It offers a boost to those who often take on mighty developers over large projects where law provides for stricter green compliance.

In two cases of activists Anil Tharthare and Santosh Daundkar from Mumbai having dragged leading developers to NGT’s western zone bench, a bench of judicial member, Justice Jawad Rahim, and D K Agarwal, the expert member, dismissed a challenge by the developers to the rights of “unaffected person” filing the cases. The developers, Resilience Realty, a Rustomjee group company, and Omkar Realtors complained that the duo had no right to approach the tribunal and be heard as they had no locus standi (right to bring an action and appear in court) as they were “not personally affected” by the projects coming up in Bandra and Malad.

Aditya Pratap, counsel for Daundkar, who had filed a complaint against Omkar Realtors for its residential highrise, Alta Monde in Malad, had argued that the project lacked “various environmental clearances”. He said the complaint must be heard as “it was essential to safeguard the fragile environment in Mumbai”.

Gaurav Joshi, the counsel for Resilience, and Cherag Balsara for Omkar, argued that Sections 16 and 18 of the NGT Act confine the category of persons who can approach the tribunal with a complaint. The right to appeal about an alleged breach of law was conferred only on specified persons under the law, they said. The right was confined to persons categorised in the Act and includes those “who have suffered injury or a legal representative of a person dead, as a result of environmental damage”. The builders argued that neither activist was owner of the property, who were harmed by the development, nor were they agents of any owner.

But the NGT bench held, “The connotation or description of category of persons as ‘persons aggrieved’, referred to in Sections 16 and 18 of the NGT Act, must receive large amplitude and shall not be read in a constrictive or restrictive manner and to the detriment of persons who are entitled to benefit of right.”

The tribunal cited a ruling in a dam case by the NGT principle bench, and said that a “person aggrieved” was entitled to “a very liberal interpretation and shall not be hyper technical to exclude bona fide individuals to seek redressal at the hands of the tribunal to protect the environment in the larger interest of society”. It cannot be interpreted by an “acid test or a straight-jacket formula” said the bench, keeping in mind the object of the NGT and the liberal legal remedies provided for under the Act.

“We’re analysing the order to plan our action and do not rule out challenging it. But the order does not have any impact on the project, which is continuing smoothly and as per schedule,” said Balsara.

The tribunal also dismissed a plea by the builders that the complaint was filed after the construction had considerably progressed. The NGT said it was filed within 30 days of passing of the environment clearance by the environment ministry. The NGT also imposed Rs 5,000 each as costs on the developers.

Credits ET Realty

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