Sabin Center
Court name
National Green Tribunal
Reference number
Application No. 170 of 2014
Climate Change

In 2014, ICELA, an environmental NGO, filed an application against the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and companies producing HCFC- 2 to stop emitting HFC-23. The emission of this by-product has 14,800 times more global warming potential (being a greenhouse gas) compared to carbon dioxide thereby leading to ozone depletion. The excessive release of greenhouse gas may set off a climate bomb and severely affect the environment. The petitioner relied on constitutional mandates, namely Articles 48A (duty of the state to protect the environment), 51A(g) (fundamental duty of the citizen to protect and improve the environment), and section 3 of the Environment Protection Act 1986 that give powers to Central Government to take such measures as deemed necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution. However, the respondent, namely, the Ministry of Environment and Forests raised a preliminary objection by stating that the petition is unmaintainable as it falls outside the jurisdiction of the National Green Tribunal. The bye-product HFC-23 does not fall within the Acts specified in Schedule-I of the NGT Act and therefore the tribunal could not entertain the petition.

On 10th December 2015, the NGT held it has the jurisdiction to hear the case as the greenhouse gas has been a matter of concern at the national and international level as part of the environment. The NGT Act 2010 is social welfare legislation and intended to provide expeditious justice in civil environmental cases. However, the tribunal found that the regulation of HFC-23 relates to a matter of global policy which must be regulated under international law. As such the court understood that “there would be a very little role for the statutory authorities within the country to take appropriate measures.”

The tribunal acknowledged that undisputedly HFC-23 has an effect on global warming being part of greenhouse gases, and at present there is a gap in scientific understanding of HFC-23’s toxic impact on the air and its categorization as a pollutant. The tribunal further observed “the international conventions and treaties have to provide a path for domestic legislation and in any case it has failed and be regulated without further delay.” Accordingly, the NGT directed the regulatory authorities and expert bodies to conduct a comprehensive data base study on HFC-23, being a pollutant and the extent of its impact on global warming, being part of greenhouse gases. On 27th September 2021, India ratified the Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol, to reduce and phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons by eighty percent by 2050.

Key environmental legal questions

Whether the government should formulate new climate policies regulating HFC-23.