Article on the Forest Case Controversy

EPW has an article on the ongoing forest case (T.N.Godavarman v. Union of India) and its implications. It traces how the SC, taking recourse to ‘continuing’ mandamus, has assumed complete administrative control over the day-to-day management of this issue. The authors say that the SC has embraced highly questionable ideas, its actions reflect a lack of proper understanding of the issues involved, some of its orders cannot be implemented, and in various instances, its directions have positively caused harm to the environment. They argue that the SC’s ongoing intervention has centralized authority in its hands at the expense of the states and the MOEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests) whose capacity to intervene has atrophied ‘as all their attention is diverted towards either circumventing or zealously anticipating the court’s orders’. They conclude that this ‘jurisprudence’ is faulty:

“The Godavarman case offers strong evi­dence to suggest that judicial overreach not only hurts the process of governance by undermining the role of the executive, but also the content of governance by pro­ducing flawed judgments, i.e., interpreta­tions of the law that are both unsound and impracticable. This happens for several reasons, including inadequate application of mind in the hurry to produce “land­mark” judgments, and the impossibility of a central court knowing the complexities of conditions and laws across such a di­verse country.”

This case has become a cause célèbre for all those concerned about the current trend of PIL cases. For those interested, one of the authors, S. Lele has written a commentary in June outlining the complexities of this issue.

In a somewhat related matter, the SC has come out with guidelines to ‘filter’ PIL cases. The news item suggests that it is an ad hoc exercise meant to check the case load. There is no mention of whether this is the outcome of J.Katju’s recent cri du Coeur – if it is, it is bound to come as a disappointment. It appears that the pronouncement will only relegate a few minor issues to a secondary status and does not signify any major change to the system as it operates today.

Update: Thanks to Tarunabh for providing a link to the official document of the Supreme Court regarding the new PIL guidelines (click here to open it).

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