The Central Government and the Supreme Court seem to be on a collision course once again. This time the issue is constitution of Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) for protection of environment and forests.
Rejecting the names suggested by the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) of the apex court and Amicus Curiae Harish Salve, the Centre notified the FAC on December 12 wherein all the members were of its own choice.
Questioning the standing and knowledge of the experts suggested by the CEC and the Amicus Curiae, the government went to the extent of saying that their knowledge of environment and ecology should be tested either in the court or anywhere else through oral examination.
Taking strong exception to the language of the government affidavit, a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India YK Sabharwal on Friday stayed the December 12 notification and directed that the earlier FAC would continue to function.
Terming it as "disturbing", the Bench asked the Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests to file an affidavit by January 3, 2007, explaining the circumstances under which the affidavit questioning the knowledge of the experts suggested by the CEC got to be filed.
It also asked the ministry to withdraw the objectionable portions of the affidavit and fixed January five 2007 for further hearing.
Earlier, Additional Solicitor General Vikas Singh told the court that it was not that only the Supreme Court could protect environment. The central government too had its own responsibility towards this, Singh added.
"It is not that nobody else can take any decision except the Supreme Court," the ASG said adding the Government constituted the FAC taking into consideration various aspects including the credentials of the members.
The court said, "the Supreme Court is not claiming that it is the only institution which is protecting the Environment. You (Environment Ministry) yourself said in your reports, but for the orders passed by the Supreme Court from time to time, the speed at which depletion of forests had continued, the total forest wealth would have depleted by now."
It further said, "Unfortunately some people have started thinking and telling openly that the Supreme Court is an impediment in many fields of life."
Admitting that the affidavit was not happily worded, Singh, however, said that it was not a reflection on the CEC or the Amicus Curiae.
In view of the submissions made in the centre's affidavit, Salve said he did not intend to continue as Amicus Curiae.
The court felt that the Central government did not seem to be prepared to coordinate with other organisations and appeared interested in having its own way.
The Supreme Court is monitoring issues relating to protection of forests across India after TN Godavarman, the erstwhile ruler of Nilambur in Kerala, approached it alleging encroachment into jungles and mismanagement of forests in the state.
Huge tracts of forestland owned by Godavarman were taken over by the government under the Gudalur Janmam Estates (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari) Act, 1969.