A landmark judgment in defence of environment

The Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of A.Chowgule and Co.Ltd. vs. Goa Foundation &Ors delivered on August 18th by Justices Tarun Chatterjee and Harjit Singh Bedi is truly landmark. The case involved the interpretation of the “forest land”, the need for prior approval for the diversion of any forest land for some other purpose, and the effectiveness of reforestation/afforestation. On each of these issues, the Judges were unequivocal, and resisted the attempt of the appellants to circumvent the law.

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  • Dear Venkatesan,

    I suppose I will be in a minority in saying this but with all due respect, it is not the Supreme Court’s duty to “protect the environment.” If one conceives the Supreme Court’s duty in such terms, then we are essentially asking for trouble because it means that the Court is taking over the job of the executive and the legislature.

    I had a brief look at the judgment. It was not easy going, partly because I am not a lawyer and hence, not used to “legalese” and partly because of the unfriendly format of the web page where the judgment is located. (Can someone request the concerned authorities to make the format more user friendly?) However, two things stand out. Firstly, note that the case goes back to 1990, so that means it took 18 years to wind its way through the system. This is bad when we consider that this is not a complex case involving tricky legal issues. That speaks eloquently of the delays in the legal system.

    Secondly, in point number 5 of the judgment, the judges state that “It is evident…that the primary issue is with regard to the permission granted by the Central Government for the diversion of the forest area.” In this regard, the judges rule that the concerned area is indeed a “forest area” (since that was disputed) and secondly, the concerned procedures for the diversion of “forest area” were not followed. Fine; the matter ends there. Why, then, do the judges find it necessary to address afforestation/reforestation issues in point 9? Sure, one or the other side may have brought it up but that does not mean the judges have to address it since it is not relevant once they have decided that the correct procedures for diversion were not followed. It seems to me that the judges are simply using point 9 to give vent to their own (political?) views regarding the environment and the failure of the Indian state to protect it. I find this really uncalled for.

    As I said, I am not a lawyer so please excuse my audacity in commenting on a Supreme Court judgment.