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Green Tribunal Bill Must Be Redrafted

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, December 04, 2009 | 8:34 PM

Press Release

Green Tribunal Bill Must Be Redrafted

Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs Ignores the Environmental Concerns of Parliamentary Committee

Tribunal must have power to Prevent Three Mile Island, Bhopal, Chernobyl & Kaiga like accidents

Avoid Legislative Disasters

New Delhi/5 December, 2009: The proposal of the Indian National Congress led United Progressive Alliance government to have an environmental court through National Green Tribunal Bill, 2009 is ridden with glaring loopholes and booby traps. Among other things the time frame of approaching the Tribunal is highly confusing and it has no power to stop damage to environment before it occurs.
National Green Tribunal is envisaged as a single tier Tribunal which is proposed to sit at 5 places initially so far as the powers of the Tribunal (primary places of sitting) are concerned, these shall have the same powers irrespective of their location. However, the administrative and financial powers for regulating day-do-day functions are vested with the Chairperson of the Tribunal. Why should this Tribunal not have the power to act for the protection of environment, to cancel environmental clearances if necessary and to provide incentives to individuals of civil society who are working as eyes and ears of nature and wildlife instead of penalizing them as is the case as of now? Why should it not have the power to issue contempt of court notices.

The 29 member Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests headed by Dr. T. Subbarami Reddy submitted its report in late November, 2009 had suggested 12 changes in the Bill of which the government has accepted ten and rejected two. (Parliamentary report attached) On September 15, 2009 Members of Parliament were informed in the Lok Sabha "that the Chairman, Rajya Sabha, in consultation with the Speaker, Lok Sabha, has referred the National Green Tribunal Bill, 2009, as introduced in Lok Sabha, to the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests for examination and report within three months." The committee adopted the Bill on 16th November, 2009.

This Parliamentary Standing Committee was constituted on 31st August, 2009. The members of this committee includes Rajya Sabha members Dr. T. Subbarami Reddy, Bhagirathi Majhi, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Anil H. Lad, Prof. Ram Gopal Yadav, Dr. Ejaz Ali, Dr. Barun Mukherjee, Saman Patha and Jabir Husain. Lok Sabha members of the parliamentary committee include Dr. Rajan Sushant, D.V. Sadananda, C. R. Patil, Smt. Kamla Devi Patle, Yashwant Sinha, Mansukhbhai D. Vasava, Kaisar Jahan, Bibhu Prasad Tarai, Pradeep Tamta, Ninong Ering, S.S. Ramasubbu, Dr. Charan Das Mahant, Gajendra Singh Rajukhedi, Francisco Sardinha, Akhilesh Yadav, Dr. Ranjan Prasad Yadav, Udyanraje Bhonsle, Jayaram Pangi, A. Ganeshamurthi, and Dr. Mirza Mehboob Beg.

The Parliamentary Committee presented its its 203rd Report on The National Green Tribunal Bill, 2009 to the Rajya Sabha on 24th November, 2009. It was laid on the table of Lok Sabha on the same day. The parliamentary committee errs in letting the Tribunal deal with only cases of civil nature excluding environmental crimes of criminal nature.

As per the report “The Committee feels that it would be in the interest of fairness if one year period to bar members of the tribunal from being employed by a company that appeared before them in the tribunal be extended to two years.” This is not sufficient; members of the Tribunal should be banned from taking assignments with the beneficiary company.

Critique of the Bill argues that the Tribunal does not have enough teeth. (Not enough teeth in Green Tribunal Bill) It is quite problematic that the Green Tribunal Bill only deals with the point sources of pollution ignoring non-point sources of pollution and fails to make companies criminally liable for their acts of omission and commission such as Bhopal's industrial disaster or any nuclear accident.

Among the recommendations accepted by the government are notifying the tribunal for the Centre and all States and Union Territories simultaneously, parity between number of judicial and expert members on the tribunal. Another recommendation of the committee that the government has accepted is ensuring a balance between expert members and judicial members while taking a decision; to this end it had suggested that the number of expert members not exceed that of judicial members in a bench or sitting. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has not accepted the recommendation that every amendment to Schedule I of the Bill be voted by Parliament. The Parliamentary Committee has rightly argued that vesting the “such an overriding power in the Ministry undermines the supremacy of Parliament.” It had therefore recommended that “any basic change from the concept of the Bill should be done only through an amendment passed by Parliament and not by notification.” By not accepting this sane recommendation, the CCEA has once again belittled the significance Parliament and parliamentary committees. The power of subordinate legislation has consistently been misused by the CCEA despite the fact that institutional accountability of Bhopal and Kaiga like disasters rests with them. Civil Society groups support this recommendation of the committee.

On November 19, 2009, the Union Cabinet cleared the text of the Civil Nuclear Liability and Damages Bill and listed it for introduction in the current Winter Session of Parliament. The passage of the Nuclear Liability Bill will allow India to join the international convention on civil liability for nuclear damage. While placing a cap on the compensation to be paid in the case of an accident at a nuclear site, the proposed legislation puts the responsibility for paying this compensation on the operator and not the suppliers or foreign companies installing the reactors in India as has been demanded by the Multinational Corporations like Union Carbide Company and Dow Chemicals Company. This provision is not in public interest. India has signed a number of nuclear power agreements with Russia, France, Kazahkastan and the US. A similar agreement has been agreed with Canada as well. On November 30, 2009India and Canada reached an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. Canada is the eighth country to have reached a civil nuclear agreement with India since the 45 member Nuclear Suppliers Group lifted the 34-year-old ban on India to join the global nuclear trade in September, 2008.

Private companies who want to do business with India have been seeking a liability law that protects them. Foreign companies wanting to supply nuclear reactors and other equipment have been pressing India for the speedy passage of this crucial Bill. Indian government is required to make some changes in its Atomic Energy Act as well. In such a context, the report of the investigative commission appointed by US President Jimmy Carter immediately following the accident must be studied by the drafters of Green Tribunal Bill and the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill. President Jimmy Carter had appointed a 12-member commission which submitted its Report of the President's Commission on The Accident at Three Mile Island-The Need for Change: The Legacy of TMI in October 1979. It is advisable to learn from the blunders of the past.

The National Green Tribunal Bill must take note of the environmental hazards from the nuclear facilities and potential nuclear accidents and incorporate stringent criminal and civil liability provisions taking lessons from worst accident at a civilian nuclear power plant in Three Mile Island (TMI) occurred on March 28, 1979 in US and the Chernobyl disaster, a nuclear reactor accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. The nuclear accident was followed by a cessation of new nuclear plant construction in the US. Indian government and the parliament must take lessons from these tragedies and accidents to avoid legislative disasters in the form of present Green Tribunal Bill which does not have the power to prevent Three Mile Island, Bhopal, Chernobyl & Kaiga like accidents. The Bill must make special provision for transnational corporations and 64heavily polluting industries in the Red category according to the Central Pollution Control Board.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, E-mail: krishnagreen@gmail.com, Mb: 9818089660

P.S: Notably, Dr Reddy is known for his pro-killer asbestos position and had objected to the introduction The Ban White Asbestos (Import & Use) Bill, 2009.
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