Justice Michael D. Wilson, an Associate Justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court who is implementing a green court system back home, is more than impressed with the functioning of the National Green Tribunal and the fact that there is a Green Bench of the Supreme Court.
How would you assess India’s will to address environmental concerns?
The NGT and the Supreme Court represent the iron will of one branch of government to address India’s environmental problems pursuant to the rule of law. They provide examples of informed judicial courage for the rest of the world. The biggest example of India’s will to protect nature is tigers. The numbers have decreased, but India is saving them.
With Hawaii passing a legislation for special courts for environment, how do you see green courts, especially the NGT, setting an example for you?
The NGT is a proven model for Hawaii as to how relevant and critical environmental laws can be administered in an informed and independent manner. The NGT does represent the idea of environment in a way that is serious. It has created a mechanism to be informed, it is accessible, decisions are made faster, citizens can move court and you have judges who are not afraid.
What necessitated green courts in Hawaii?
Natural resource problems facing our community have not been addressed as required under the constitution and laws of Hawaii. The community persuaded the Hawaii legislature to create a court to specifically consider and decide environmental cases. Hawaii cleared the Bill for creation of new courts tasked with settling environmental disputes and for maintenance and improvement.
As a judge heading the environment courts, how would you ensure effective implementation of laws?
Environmental courts should follow India’s example of provide funding for judges specifically assigned to environmental cases as well as technical assistance necessary to aid judges’ analysis of technical/scientific issues. As in India, adequate salary and extended terms of office should be provided to judges to enhance independence.
Have there been cases where citizens of Hawaii have moved court against any form of pollution?
Hawaii has laws providing prosecution environmental pollution, but implementation is not that effective. Now we are adopting a system of collecting cases dealing with environment and assigning them to specific judges. An example of a case in which the court addressed pollution of coral reefs is Pila’a 400 Vs. Board of Land and Natural Resources and imposed a fine of $4 million on a landowner for causing damaging 20 acres of reef at Pila’a Bay
Any suggestions for India on how it can clean its rivers?
India is distinguished by an extraordinary tradition of commitment to natural environment. Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism provide a context for daily reverence of the environment. Such reverence motivates brilliant, fearless and hopeful community activists, lawyers and judges. This is an inspiring, formidable national resource that will lead to an eventual restoration of the health of its rivers.
How can India and Hawaii work together on environment?
India and Hawaii share two very important traits — a belief that every person contains goodness and can achieve happiness; and an every day awareness of the power and beauty inherent in the natural world. With such a powerful shared conviction, we can help each other achieve the return of our land, air, water, plants and animals to a healthy condition.
What would you say of reports about amendment to laws which would reduce the say of NGT?
I feel that the community is waking up to environment. When it wakes up, it would not allow powers of the court to be taken away.