Taking a tough stand on the alleged judicial interference in administrative matters, the Centre on Friday confronted the Supreme Court over the appointment of members to the Forest Advisory Committee contending that some of its recent orders were beyond jurisdiction and contrary to statutory provisions.
During hearing of a PIL on forests, Additional Solicitor General Vikas Singh said that before the court decides the issue of appointment of members to FAC, it has to be considered "whether the courts have the jurisdiction to pass orders which have been passed and are contrary to the statutes."
This led to a heated exchange of arguments between the Bench headed by Chief Justice YK Sabharwal and the ASG, which is generally not witnessed in the court. It went to the extent of the court warning Singh against speaking further in that tone and the ASG retorting that the court could not gag him.
"Earlier we did not have the assistance of people of your learning," the Bench sarcastically shot back.
"When the orders were passed, Solicitor General, Additional Solicitor Generals, Attorney General and counsel for Ministry of Environment and Forests were there and on not a single occasion they said that the court was acting contrary to the statute," the Bench said.
Taking strong exception to the ASG's submissions, the Bench said, "For the last ten years, nobody said that our orders were contrary to the statutes."
To this the ASG said "it was only some of the recent orders" and the impression that the ministry was in confrontation has been created by the Amicus Curiae.
The court said, "the impression you are trying to create is that we are going beyond what is permissible within the Constitution. We are taking strong exception to this" and would determine how to proceed in the issue.
When the ASG submitted that there was a separation of power between the Judiciary and the Executive, the court warned him not to speak. "Don't utter…that we are not respecting other institutions."
On this the ASG said, "Your lordship can not gag me. You are not permitting me to say what I am wanting. What your are saying is that what I am saying is contemptuous."
The ministry has cast doubts over the credentials of the persons proposed by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) Amicus Curiae Harish Salve as the member to the FAC.
The Court asked the CEC and Salve to respond to the ministry's affidavit within two weeks and posted the matter for further hearing after three weeks.
Earlier, rejecting the names suggested by the CEC and Salve, the Centre had notified the FAC on December 12 wherein all the members were of its own choice. It had questioned the standing and knowledge of the experts suggested by the CEC and the Amicus Curiae.
But the court had on December 15 last stayed the December 12 notification.
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 was taken over by the government under the Gudalur Janmam Estates (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari) Act, 1969.