Rajiv Dutta v. Union of India
Jurisdiction: National Green Tribunal of India
Side A: Rajiv Dutta (Individual)
Side B: Union of India (Government)
Core objectives: Emissions from forest fires contribute to climate change, and the need to develop forest fire management plans.
SummaryIn 2016, the petitioner, a senior environmental lawyer, filed a case before the NGT. The case relates to large scale and uncontrolled forest fires ravaging the States of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh thereby undermining the ecological sustainability of an already endangered biological zone. Emissions released by forest fires include carbon dioxide CO2, carbon monoxide (CO), and methane (CH4), organic aerosols and black carbon, non-methane organic compounds, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and Sulphur dioxide (SO2). These emissions affect the efficiency of both atmospheric and surface absorption of solar energy, with resultant cooling and or warming effects. Forest fires have a devastating effect on the glaciers of Uttarakhand, which are the life line of major north Indian rivers, have been covered by ‘black carbon’ causing them to melt faster. The respondents, States of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, contended that the year 2016 saw extremely low rainfall thereby causing a serious moisture deficit in the soil and in the forest areas, thereby making conditions conducive to the occurrence and spread of forest fires.
The NGT saw merit in the respondents’ argument but required a better advance planning and implementation of the Fire Management Plan and Crisis Management plan for forest fires. Accordingly, the NGT directed the central and respective state governments to formulate national policy and guidelines for forest fire prevention and control. The respective States must prepare and implement forest fire management plan for effective prevention and control of forest fire.
The tribunal specifically asked the Chief secretaries of both the states to ensure that adequate resources and manpower are “placed at the disposal of the forest department both at the state and district/division level, at the beginning of each financial year.” Consequently, both the States developed their respective plans but the implementation was partial being limited by staff and financial constraints. In 2019, the NGT issued interim orders directing robust institutional mechanism for an effective implementation of the action plans for controlling forest fires.