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In Environment related disputes Civil Court has no jurisdiction, only NGT has jurisdiction; SC

The SC on May 6, 2020 {Ratnagiri Nagar Parishad v. Gangaram Narayan Ambekar & Ors.} held that on perusal of the tenor of the plaint and the subject matter of the present suit, it is indisputable that the case plainly   involved   substantial   question   relating   to   environment including   enforcement   of   legal   right   relating   to   environment. It was held that   cause   was   the   foundation   for   the   relief   of   permanent injunction sought by the plaintiffs. The Court held that by virtue of Section 29 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, the Civil Court ought not to have continued with the suit. It was held that it is a different matter that the trial Court chose to dismiss the   suit   on   the   finding   that   the   plaintiffs   had   failed   to substantiate the case set up by them in the plaint. It was held that once the suit was barred by law, the civil Court could not   have   proceeded with   the   suit   and   at   best,   the parties could have been relegated before the NGT, the special forum created by the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.

It was further held by the SC Bench, comprising of Justice A.M. Khanwilkar & Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, that the fundamental question for its consideration in present case is the effect of   enactment   of   the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. It was held that it  is   an   Act   to   provide   for establishment of a National Green Tribunal (NGT) for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to, amongst others, environmental protection including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages   to   persons   and   property   and   for   matters   connected therewith or incidental thereto. It was further held that Chapter III of the Act delineates the jurisdiction, powers and proceedings of the Tribunal. Further held, that Section deals with the jurisdiction of the Tribunal (NGT) over all civil cases   where   a   substantial   question   relating   to   environment (including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment) is involved and such question arises out of the implementation of the enactments specified in Schedule I. It was also held that Section 20 predicates that the Tribunal (NGT) shall, while passing any order or decision or award, apply the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle. 

In the present case, the question before the SC was whether the suit as filed in the year 2005 would be affected by the coming into force of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 with effect   from   2.6.2010   and   in   particular   consequent   to establishment of the Tribunal (NGT) on 18.10.2010. When indeed, the present suit was filed prior to that date. The trial court had dismissed the suit; but in appeal it was decreed by the first appellate court and confirmed by the High Court in second appeal.

The SC held that in the written   statement,   clear   assertion   has   been   made   by   the defendants (appellant and respondent No. 20) that the decision to allot suit land to the appellant and for setting up the Project was taken after due deliberation and consultation with the expert Committee   including   in   exercise   of   statutory   powers   of   the concerned authority in that regard. It was held that none of these decisions of the competent authority has been assailed by the plaintiffs nor any declaratory relief sought in that regard. It was held that in such a case, it would not be enough to ask for permanent injunction simpliciter and the suit so filed ought to have been rejected at the threshold on that count alone.

The SC held that applying the settled principle, as   no declaration has been sought by the plaintiffs in the present case, the   suit   for   simpliciter   permanent   injunction   could   not   be proceeded further at all. It was held that even for this reason, the decree passed by the first appellate Court and confirmed by the High Court, cannot   stand   the   test   of   judicial   scrutiny.

Further held that, Section 41(f) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 clearly mandates that an injunction cannot be granted to prevent, on the ground of nuisance, an act of which it is not reasonably clear that it will be a   nuisance. It was held that similarly,   the   respondent   No.   20   (State   of Maharashtra) is right in contending that the plaintiffs would have equally   efficacious   relief   by   resorting   to   other   mode   of proceedings. Hence, it was held that the civil Court ought not to have granted injunction simpliciter also because of the stipulation in Section 41(h) of the 1963 Act, wherein it is made amply clear that when equally efficacious relief can certainly be obtained by any other usual mode of proceeding except in case of breach of trust, an injunction cannot be granted. The SC held that the scheme of Section 41 of the 1963 Act predicates that the Civil Court must refuse to grant injunction in the situations referred to therein vide clauses (a) to (j). It was held that the recent amendment to that provision by Act 18 of 2018 has inserted clause (ha), for making it explicitly clear that the civil Court must refuse to grant injunction if it would impede or delay the progress of completion of any infrastructure project, such as the present one. The SC held that indeed, this amended provision does not apply to the present case. It was held, however, the Court could not have answered the matter in issue on the basis of assumptions and conjectures, much less unsubstantiated claim of the plaintiffs.

The Court held that taking any view of the matter, the civil suit, as filed by the respondent Nos. 1 to 19 (plaintiffs) ought to have been dismissed, as was rightly done by the trial Court.

Accordingly, the appeal succeeded and the judgment and decree passed by the first appellate Court and by the High Court, were set aside by the SC.   Resultantly, the civil suit filed by the plaintiffs (respondents Nos. 1 to 19) stood dismissed.

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