Environment: As Goyal sees judicial overreach, judge says here to stay
Justice T S Thakur (right) with Goyal at the NGT event Sunday
Senior Supreme Court judge Justice T S Thakur on Sunday criticised the government for describing judicial decisions as “overreach”, adding that courts would continue to enforce the law strictly in matters of environment protection, even if they seem to be taking on an activist role.
“This country knows that if today there is a movement for protection of environment, it is spearheaded by the judiciary and judiciary alone,” Thakur, who is in line to be the next Chief Justice of India, said. “If you call this judicial overreach, we can only say, sorry, it may continue for a long time.”
Speaking at the end of a two-day international conference organised by the National Green Tribunal along with the Environment Ministry and others, Thakur was reacting to a remark by Coal Minister Piyush Goyal, who spoke earlier about “judicial overreach” in some environmental cases.
Speaking about the delicate balance the government has to maintain between economic growth and protecting environment, Goyal said that sometimes “judicial overreach or sensationalisation” of a particular matter causes more damage than good. “I believe a pragmatic judicial review of restrictions is necessary. Judiciary needs to intervene to ensure that environment is indeed being protected,” he said.
The minister added that there had been instances in which an area described as forest land had been ordered out of bounds for some projects, though in reality it happened to be a heavily populated area. “There has to be more pragmatism, therefore,” Goyal said.
In his address, Justice Thakur said that while the judiciary does sometimes seem to be taking an activist role, that was only to ensure that environmental crimes do not go unpunished. Protection of environment is a constitutional duty of courts, he said.
By insisting on law enforcement, courts were not looking at usurping the government’s powers, Thakur said. “Rest assured, it is not the intention of courts to take over the government,” he said, but lamented the fact that even judicial pronouncements are not honoured on many occasions.
He added that Indian judiciary had faced this criticism of “overreach” and “activism” on many occasions. “But the judiciary does not get deterred by this. It only helps us in ensuring that the law takes its course,” he said.
Goyal told The Indian Express that he never meant to say judiciary was overreaching itself in every case. “My comments were made in the specific context of some decisions, like a ban on construction around Mahabaleshwar. I talked about judicial overreach on some occasions, but he (Thakur) seemed to interpret it as my saying it is always the case. I spoke to him later about this, and he agreed,” the minister said.
“There is no clash with the judiciary on environmental matters,” he added. “We (the government and judiciary) are both on the same side. Let there be no doubt about our government’s commitment to protect environment. We are extremely sensitive to that. And we appreciate the fact that the judiciary also has played a stellar role towards this goal.”
During his speech, Thakur also said that he realised that the government and judiciary were not working at cross-purposes on this issue. But, citing the example of Ganga cleaning, he said that despite continuous prodding from courts, government efforts had yielded little result.
“For more than 20 years now, the government has been cleaning the Ganga, and we all know the condition of the river. Thousands of crores have been spent,” he said. Thakur is on the bench that is hearing cases related to Ganga cleaning.
The senior judge’s comments came just three days after NGT Chairperson Justice (retd) Swatanter Kumar took on the government for its reported move to rein in the powers of the tribunal. Telling the government that environment protection was their priority as well, Kumar had said the NGT would continue to exercise its powers as laid down in law.
Source:: Indian Express