Two months after the National Green Tribunal banned sand mining from river beds and beaches across the country without environmental clearance, Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam today said 100 % ban on sand removal is "wrong".
"I am sorry to say some courts, some tribunals have banned the activities (of sand removal from river banks). There is 100 % ban. I am saying it is wrong," he said and emphasised on the need for balance between development and environmental protection.
The CJI was speaking on the occasion of the Third Foundation Day as well as the inauguration of the new premises of the NGT, which has shifted to Faridkot House in Lutyen's Delhi from its small makeshift arrangements at two separate locations in the national capital ever since its inception on October 18, 2010.
Referring to his own lands and house on the banks of Cauvery in Tamil Nadu, Justice Sathasivam said that during the months of April to June water is not available because the river is full of sand and "unless we regulate in removing the sand at least for three to five feet, during the flood or rainy season the entire flood will go to the sea only".
The CJI's remarks came barely two weeks after the NGT had clarified that its ban on sand mining without clearance was not something unique but was meant to ensure strict compliance of "intent of the legislature, the dictum of the Supreme Court and the law in force".
Speaking at the event, apex court judge R M Lodha while congratulating the NGT on its "acquisition" of a new building, expressed surprise that tribunalised justice is being given the formal form of judicial justice by providing them with courtrooms, etc.
He said if only the name is changed without changing the form of the forum, the results sought may not be achieved.
"Except changing the name if you continue to have the same form perhaps we will not be getting the results we want," Justice Lodha said. Justice Lodha said that in other countries, a round table format has been adopted by tribunals wherein all stakeholders sit to resolve the issues.
He expressed hope that the proceedings in the NGT will be "as flexible and as informal as they should be".
He also sought to allay fears of a certain section of society which feels that environmental controls and regulations are anti-business.
"This notion is misconceived. Environmental controls and regulations are neither pro-business nor anti-business. Therefore, they should not be viewed with a tainted approach. They help in protecting environment and development," he said.
Justice Lodha also said the biggest challenge before the NGT is how to integrate the experts mind and legal mind of the judicial members in the decision making process as the experts are "not well versed with decision making".
Their integration will determine the success or failure of the NGT, he said.
Both CJI Sathasivam and Justice Lodha emphasised that the NGT should maintain a balance between protecting environment and development.
The CJI also said that the planet "cannot afford the luxury of ignoring the economic as well as environmental threat that a fast deteriorating ecosystem poses" and that in such situation "it is not feasible for the judiciary to remain unmindful of this critical aspect of national life".
Justice Sathasivam also observed that while maintaining the balance between development and conservation of ecology, "smaller public interest should yield to larger public interest".
The new building has been allocated to the NGT after the intervention of the apex court which last year had directed the government to shift the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which was occupying the premises.
The NHRC was expected to shift to its own building in January, but it moved only recently and the delay resulted in prolonging NGT's wait for a new office.
The infrastructure and accommodation issues faced by the tribunal members- judicial and expert- and the staff as well as setting up of additional benches have been closely monitored by the apex court whose active involvement and warnings to the government is responsible for setting up of three additional benches at Chennai, Bhopal and Pune apart from the Principal Bench at Delhi.
The Pune bench began functioning from August 8 after several warnings from the apex court which had directed that it be made functional from August 1.
Kolkata is yet to get a bench as the West Bengal government has not satisfied the NGT or the apex court with the accommodation and infrastructure arrangements made by it.
The apex court has already warned the state that if it does not provide satisfactory arrangements, the bench would be shifted to either Ranchi or Guwahati.