The Union government has withdrawn Additional Solicitor General Vikas Singh — who had taken a tough stand against alleged judicial interference in the affairs of the executive — from the cases before the ‘forest bench’ headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan. Singh was not seen before the ‘forest bench’ on Friday and a senior counsel represented the Centre before it.
Coming within days of news reports of the government virtually seeking winding up of the ‘forest bench’ monitoring cases on diversion of forestland, the decision is seen as an attempt to avoid confrontation with the Supreme Court which is to hear on July 31 the Centre’s plea to vacate stay on OBC quota. A Constitution bench is scheduled to commence hearing of the petitions challenging the OBC quota law from August 7.
Environment Secretary Pradipto Ghosh, who demitted office in May, had signed the affidavit seeking disbanding of the ‘forest bench’ on his last day in office. At present, there is no cabinet minister in charge of the ministry of environment and forests. The last minister to hold the charge was A. Raja, who has since been shifted to the telecommunications ministry. Sources said that the government might even withdraw the plea for disbanding the ‘forest bench’.
The confrontation started in December last year when Singh directly took on the then Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal by saying that most of the orders passed by the ‘forest bench’ were illegal and beyond its jurisdiction.
He had said the Supreme Court should not think that it alone was safeguarding the forests of the country and that a lot had been done by the government on this front.
The provocation? The court had insisted on the appointment of persons recommended by its Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC). But the Centre rejected the names on the ground that most of them were incompetent to become members of the FAC and went on appoint its own men on the FAC.
The bench headed by the then CJI Sabharwal stayed the decision but later his successor Justice K.G. Balakrishnan vacated the stay.