The only point of agreement between Judges A.K. Sikri and Rekha Sharma was the appointment of a panel to study the ecological impact of construction of the Games village.
Deep differences between the two on all other aspects were the highlight of the case — they even went to the extent of writing separate judgments.
This gave an impression that it was a ‘divided bench’ and not a ‘division bench’ (as a two-judge panel is termed), which was hearing the case.
Justice Sikri may have waxed eloquent on the need to balance the “conflicting interests of development and environmental protection”, but Justice Sharma slammed all government agencies for rampant “urbanisation at the cost of the environment”.
“This judgment relates to a river which once flowed majestically but is now gasping for breath. If this continues, time is not far off when this gift of gods will die an unnatural death getting buried beneath layers of silt. If no urgent remedial measures are taken Yamuna may exist only in books. It is this fear and anxiety that has made me pen these lines,” said Justice Sharma.
While Justice Sikri left the question of whether the construction was taking place on a riverbed to an “expert committee”, Justice Sharma outright agreed that it was “undoubtedly on the river bed”.
Getting a boost from these observations, environmentalists lashed out at the directions saying they made the case look “more about Commonwealth Games than about Yamuna’s health”.
“How does it matter if the Games are a prestigious event or not? How does it matter what the Games would do to the city? It is about the ecological effects of constructions on riverbed but some of the observations do not pertain to that and discuss the merits of the games, which we never argued about,” said Manoj Misra, one of the petitioners about the 97-page judgment.
“Justice Sharma’s observations are in line with what we have been arguing. We hope the expert committee will see similar reason in our argument and recommend in our favour seeing that at least one of the two judges agreed with us,” said Vinod
Jain, another petitioner.
When Justice Sikri stopped at merely constituting a panel under Pachauri to look into environmental damage owing to the constructions, Justice Sharma wondered why he was “silent about the constitution and other salient aspects concerning the committee” which according to her “had to be spelt out in detail”.
“Who will appoint the committee? Who will be its members? The scope of enquiry and whom to give the final report? These issues needed to be dealt with in detail,” she said issuing various directions which Justice Sikri “entirely agreed with” in a ‘post script’ at the end of his judgment.
Justice Sharma slams NEERI Criticising the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and the Environment Ministry for “changing stand” in a hurry to clear projects, Justice Sharma said it did not “paint them in bright colours”.
“In its 2005 reports it pleaded against development activities especially permanent structures on the riverbed except horticultural operations. It warned against encroachments, building activity and urban sprawl and then suddenly they recommended release of vast chunk of land for urban activities,” she noted.
Justice Sikri said NEERI’s latest stand gave an impression that it was “tailor-made” report given to suit the requirement of the government.