56 judgments in a single day

The tribunal, which has been a busy hub of environmental issues, ranging from challenges to clearance granted to projects of big industries to protection of eco-sensitive areas like Rohtang Pass and Kaziranga National Park, achieved a feat of pronouncing 56 judgments in a single day on December 10 by settling 209 cases.

Barely five years into existence, the NGT's pro-active role was noticed by international media which praised its speedy redressal of pollution issues as an elated Chairman Swatanter Kumar stated that the green panel disposed of 82 percent pending cases in 2014.

The extraordinary situations arising due to extreme environmental degradation demanded extraordinary measures and some of the tribunal's decisions like the ban on registration of new diesel-run vehicles in the national capital created controversy, confusion and hogged the limelight.

NGT on Ganga rejuvenation

However, the NGT had the last laugh as the Supreme Court later put the stamp of approval on the steps taken by it to bring the pollution level down in the capital which has achieved a dubious distinction of world's most polluted city. The tribunal also lived up to the expectation and trust bestowed on it by the Apex Court while delegating the panel with the issue of Ganga and it acted tough against the polluting industries by ordering their closure.

The green panel, which unveiled its plan to clean Ganga from Gomukh to Bay of Bengal, imposed complete ban on plastic from Gomukh to Haridwar and announced that if any hotel,dharamshala or ashram release waste into the river, it will have to pay environmental compensation of Rs 5,000 per day.

Rafting and camping activities in Uttarakhand also came under the scanner of NGT which banned camping activity in the entire belt of Kaudiyala to Rishikesh on the banks of Ganga till the regulatory regime comes into force but allowed the adventure sport rafting.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's clean Ganga project also got a boost when NGT directed tanneries situated in Kanpur along the river to strictly comply with mandatory pollution norms and warned them of closure.

NGT: In tune with sustainable development projects

Keeping in tune with pledge of sustainable development, the green panel indicated that its orders would not come in way of the economic growth and in one such decision it stayed the order of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to close Coca Cola's bottling plant in Prime Minister's Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi.

While, cracking the whip on those polluting Yamuna, the green bench passed a slew of directions including a fine of Rs 5,000 on individuals spotted throwing waste or religious items in the river and held that every household in the city will now have have to pay a minimum environment compensation of Rs 100 for generating sewage.

In another significant order, it banned immersion of idols except those made from bio-degradable material and held that no commercial/construction activity except floriculture and silviculture would be allowed by any of the authorities on the flood plain of Yamuna river. In southern India, the tribunal directed the Andhra Pradesh government not to carry out any operation of clearing of land near the floodplains on the banks of river Krishna for construction of a new state capital without obtaining the environmental clearance.

NGT cracked the whip
Irked by the blame game by various departments within the state, it imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh on Delhi government for not following its orders on implementation of "Maili se Nirmal
Yamuna Revitalisation Project 2017".

Cracking the whip on two commercial projects in Bengaluru, the tribunal imposed Rs 117.35 crore and Rs 22.5 crore as damages on two companies for degrading the environment, which was later stayed by the Supreme Court. Even a 450-bed super-specialty hospital in Faridabad town of Haryana faced the ire of the tribunal which quashed its environmental clearance while slapping a fine of almost Rs 12 crore as damages for degrading the ecology.

The NGT slammed Assam government for failure to curb encroachments and commercial activities on National Highway-37 which passes through Kaziranga as it restrained Numaligarh Refinery Limited from carrying out any construction activity in the No-Development Zone in the national park.

Concerned over rapid pace of melting glaciers and blackening of snow, the green panel imposed complete ban on commercial activities including para-gliding, snow scooters, horses riding etc and limited the number of vehicles passing through the 13,050-feet Rohtang pass while ordering installation of CNG station at Manali.

NGT on mega projects
NGT, which banned rat-hole mining in Meghalaya, allowed transportation of coal with due "checks and balances" and sought coal mining plan from the state government with complete design and scientific methods to be adopted for safety of mines and its workers.

The construction of the 300 MW Lakhwar multi-purpose project being built by Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (UJVNL) and 2880 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project in Arunachal Pradesh also came under green panel's scrutiny which sought response from the government on the issue.

The tribunal, which refused to decommission the 400-megawatt Vishnu Prayag Hydro Electric Project, directed all nine hydro-power projects in Uttarakhand to build their own sewage treatment plants (STPs) and make them operational within three months.

It also ordered a halt to work on construction of a fifth tunnel at the site on Sawra Kuddu hydroelectric project in Himachal Pradesh and sought government's response to maintain a minimum of 15 percent river flow downstream by hydroelectric projects across India.

It warned of shutting down thermal power plants and coal mines in Singrauli and Sonebhadra areas of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh for causing acute air and water pollution, asking the states whether the people there have the right to live.

While taking a tough decision to help battle alarming pollution levels, the tribunal also asked the central and state government departments not to purchase diesel vehicles and there would be no renewal of registration of diesel vehicles which are more than 10-year-old.

It directed all commercial vehicles entering Delhi to pay environmental compensation charge in addition to the toll tax and ordered that all vehicles destined for places other than Delhi shall be diverted at Panipat to take alternate route via NH-71A and NH-71 and exit at Bawal in Haryana.
NGT slammed NHAI over delaying of  projects
Slamming the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and Haryana government for the excessive delay in construction of Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways, it directed them to complete the work expeditiously to divert the traffic from entering the capital. Acting tough on alarming pollution level in Delhi-NCR, the Tribunal imposed a complete ban on burning of waste in open including garbage, leaves, plastic and crop residues and said violators will be fined Rs 5,000.

NGT banned plastic bags

Noting the catastrophic effects of plastic on environment, the green bench imposed a complete ban on plastic bags in cities like Haridwar, Chandigarh and announced a fine of Rs 5,000 on anyone found using or dealing with such material.

Observing that crop burning was a serious issue which contributed to global warming and environmental pollution, the green panel imposed fines ranging from Rs 2,500 to Rs 15,000
on farmers indulging in burning of agricultural residues and asked the state governments to act on the issue.

NGT imposed fine for non compliance of guidelines
The year also witnessed imposition of massive fines on private firms and government institutions for non compliance of order and causing damage to the environment and ecology. While noting "definite negligence" and "intentional lack of will" on the part of Railways, the tribunal imposed a cost of Rs 5 lakh on the public transporter for its failure to keep tracks and platforms clean while directing rehabilitation of slum clusters located near railway tracks on "top priority".

The tribunal slapped a fine on the Akshardham temple management here for carrying out expansion without prior environmental clearance. Rampant illegal mining across the country being carried "right under the nose" of authorities also caught the attention of the tribunal prompting it to immediately stop such activities.

In a stern warning to authorities, the green bench warned that their accounts might be attached and officials could face punitive action as it banned mining activity on Yamuna. The green tribunal acted tough on glass and ceramic industries in Uttar Pradesh and constituted a committee to inspect the industries while directing them to collect samples of ambient air quality in the area.

NGT on Conservation of trees
Conservation of trees was another important agenda on the tribunal's list with the green panel directing Delhi government to increase the strength of the forest department. The tribunal even directed filing of a contempt petition against Delhi government for defying its orders on trees and issued notices to NHAI, Noida Metro Rail Services, UP department of forests, Noida Authority, for tree felling.

NGT on Unauthorised harnessing of groundwater
Unauthorised harnessing of groundwater for construction purposes also caught the green tribunal's attention which has issued notice to builders in Delhi-NCR and imposed hefty fines on five-star hotels, malls and hospitals for not installing proper rainwater harvesting systems in their premises. Heeding to the plea of a United States-based neurologist, the tribunal directed the Centre to ensure no disinfectant fumigation is carried out in aircraft while passengers are on-board.

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