Appeal Against Environmental Clearance Granted to Vishakapatnam Greenfield International Airport Restored By Supreme Court Before NGT

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Case: Sridevi Datla Vs. Union Of India

Coram: Justices L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat

Case No: [CA 3136 OF 2020]

Court observation: “There can be no dispute that the period of limitation set out in a special law, which provides for remedies and appeals, has to be construed in its terms and without reference to the Limitation Act if it contains specific provisions delineating the time or period within which applications or appeals can be preferred, and confines the consideration of applications for condoning the delay to a specific number of days. Undoubtedly, in such cases, the Limitation Act would be inapplicable.

There are several previous judgments of this court holding that where periods of limitation are prescribed under special laws, appeals that exceed the period granted and are within the extended period of limitation in the special law, can be entertained at the discretion of the tribunal, or court concerned and the Limitation Act would not apply upon expiry of such extended period. This court holds that there is merit in the contention of the Union that the provisions of the Limitation Act are inapplicable.”, it said.

“This provision applies to all Central Acts enacted after the said Act was brought into force…It is also noticeable that there is no indication in the NGT Act that Section 10 of the General Clauses Act cannot be applied. It is, therefore, held that the provision applies Proprio vigore to all appeals filed under the NGT Act.”, the court added.

“It is evident that the term sufficient cause is relative, fact-dependent, and has many hues, largely deriving color from the facts of each case, and the behavior of the litigant who seeks condonation of delay (in approaching the court).

However, what can broadly be said to be universally accepted is that in principle, the applicant must display bona fides, should not have been negligent, and the delay occasioned should not be such that condoning it would seriously prejudice the other party.”

“This court is of the opinion that there is merit in the appellant’s argument. The respondents, especially, the project applicant, had urged that the appellant is an interested party, and cannot be called a public-spirited citizen, because she had opposed the acquisition of land for the airport and therefore, was able to access legal advice at the High Court stage.

There is, in our opinion, nothing in the NGT Act that excludes parties who would be directly affected by a project, that has environmental repercussions, from accessing the tribunal (NGT).

Likewise, characterizing the nature of legal advice that can be accessed for challenging land acquisition, as similar to a challenge to environmental clearance which involves the application of mind to technical issues in a detailed manner, would be unfair and simplistic. Scientific or technical support – apart from expert professional legal advice is necessary, if the NGT were to be approached.

In these circumstances, this court is of the opinion that given the mandate of the NGT Act, the exercise of discretion, as was done in this case, to reject the appeal by dismissing the application for condonation of delay, on the ground that no sufficient cause was shown, was erroneous and based on a narrow reading of the law.

An appeal to the NGT in such matters is no ordinary matter; it has the potential of irrevocably changing the environment with the possibility of likely injury. Application of judicial mind by an independent tribunal in such cases, at the first appellate stage, is almost a necessity.”, it said.


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