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Laws remain unenforced, constitutional courts to monitor functioning of environmental bodies: SC [Read Judgment]

By Harshvardhan Sharma      01 February, 2024 10:51 AM      0 Comments
Laws remain unenforced, constitutional courts to monitor functioning of environmental bodies: SC

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said several laws, rules, and regulations existed for protection of the environment, but their objective is not achieved as these laws remain unenforced or ineffectively implemented.  

A bench of Justices B R Gavai, P S Narasimha and Prashant Kumar Mishra stressed on the need to ensure vibrant functioning of these environmental bodies, assisted by robust infrastructure and human resources.

"The constitutional courts will monitor the functioning of these institutions so that the  environment and ecology is not only protected but also enriched," the bench said.

In its judgement, the court granted its approval to a new body of experts set up by the Centre for consultation on environmental and forest matters, by issuing a slew of directions.

The bench, however, clarified that it will continue to monitor these matters and will also exercise jurisdiction over the new panel, which replaced the court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC).

"We find that by virtue of the notification of September 05, 2023, our concerns regarding the functioning of the CEC as an ad hoc body and that hereinafter it should be institutionalised as a permanent body have been taken care of," the bench said.

The court approved reconstitution of the CEC, which was set up on apex court's order in 2002, having noted that the CEC functioned for two decades as an ad-hoc body.

The said notification provides for the constitution of the CEC, its powers, functions, mandate, members, method of appointment, terms of service, and monitoring of its functioning, the court found.

“We also noticed that the present composition of CEC consists of persons more than the age of 75-year. So, we have taken note of the notification issued by the government. We have also said that this court will continue to have and continue to exercise jurisdiction over the decisions taken by CEC,”  the bench said.

“We have given further directions with respect to how to ensure institutionalisation of the various bodies constituted under different environmental protection acts,” the bench added.

In its directions, the court ordered the CEC to adopt the measures to promote institutional transparency, efficiency, and accountability in its functioning.

The court also told the CEC to formulate guidelines for the conduct of its functions and internal meetings also formulate guidelines about the public meetings that it holds, ensure the publication of meeting agenda in advance on its website, maintain minutes of meetings, and set out rules regarding notice to parties, the court said.

The bench also directed the CEC to formulate guidelines for site visits and, if necessary, hearing the public and affected parties and formulate guidelines fixing time limits for site visits, preparation of reports, and also the manner of preparation of reports.

The court said the rule of law in environmental governance seeks to redress the implementation gap, which has a direct bearing on the protection of the environment, forests, wildlife, sustainable development, and public health, eventually affecting fundamental human rights to a clean environment that are intrinsically tied to right to life.

"Accountability of the authorities impressed with the duty to enforce and implement environmental and other ecological laws is an important feature of judicial governance," the bench said.

The court noted there are a number of bodies, authorities, and regulators, constituted with persons having expertise in the field with requisite knowledge to take appropriate decisions about contentious issues of the environment, forests, and wildlife, and also to ensure effective implementation of environmental laws.  

"These bodies constitute the  backbone of environmental governance in our country. They need to function with efficiency, integrity, and independence. As  duty¬bearers, they are also subject to accountability," the bench said.

The court also issued a number of directions for the existing bodies, including regular and systematic  audit of the functioning of these authorities.

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