Supreme Court judge slams Centre for 'judicial overreach' remark

New Delhi: In unusually blunt remarks, a senior Supreme Court judge on Sunday criticised the government for describing judicial decisions as "overreach", saying those were taken with the aim of protecting environment and the judiciary is not against infrastructure development.

Justice TS Thakur Supreme Court said, "This country knows that if there is today a movement for the protection of environment it is spearheaded by judiciary and judiciary alone."

 Supreme Court judge slams Centre for judicial overreach remark

Representational image. Reuters

He added, that the judiciary sometimes does transgress the 'Lakshman Rekha' but it is only with the aim of protecting the environment and the right to life of people of this country as guaranteed under the Constitution.

Thakur was responding to remarks made by Power and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal, at a conference in New Delhi, that the government has to ensure adequate job opportunities and simultaneously ensure that this economic development is not at the cost of environment degradation.

"However, it is very important to understand that sometime a judicial overreach or sensationalisation of a particular subject can cause more damage than growth," Goyal remarked.

The minister said, "I believe pragmatic judicial review of the restrictions is necessary, it is the need of the hour to come to terms with whether our actions are actions to ostensibly save the environment."

Thakur, who is tipped to be the next Chief Justice of India in December, cited the example of government pronouncements on cleaning of Ganga over the years.

"For 20 years the government has been cleaning Ganga and we all know the condition of the holy river after the campaign started, thousands of crores have gone down in the project."

He added, it is a political slogan which catches votes and we all know that this can go on for another 20 years.

Taking a jibe at the government over pollution of river Yamuna, Thakur said, "SG (Solicitor General) who is the conscience keeper in the environmental matters made an honest confession here that there is H2 (hydrogen) but not O (oxygen) in the water of the Yamuna."

He said that if the judiciary orders cleaning up of these rivers it is described as guilty of 'judicial overreach'.

Thakur said, "We are not at cross purpose, you (government) want the environment to be clean, we also want the environment to be clean."

He added that the government wants enforcement of laws and so does the judiciary.

"You may like laws to be interpreted the way your perception is, we are also under the oath to ensure that laws are interpreted according to the constitutional scheme," he said adding that the judiciary is open to correction.

Thakur said that the government has the resources and the human wherewithal to project the point of view it wants to confess and tell us that the given provision is not being interpreted accurately or in tune with the spirit of the law.

He said the courts believe that protection of environment is their constitutional duty.

"Please be rest assured that it is not that the courts are keen to take over government, the directions of protection of environment are issued because they (courts) consider this as one of the sacred constitutional duties that is enjoined upon us as the guardians of the Constitution."

However, he said that this is a perennial problem the controversial debate that can engage us in deliberations.

"With each one of us discharging his duties we should have no difficulty in allowing each one of us to act in our respective spirits."

Citing an example of removing trees for setting up power transmission line, Thakur said that the judiciary does not stand between development and environment but has every right to monitor whether the judgement passed by the court has been implemented.

"SC is monitoring the cutting of trees in connection with various projects, everytime there is a transmission line to be laid there is a request made to the SC to allow us to cut so many 100 trees...

"...we refer it to a committee which looks into the matter and a report is submitted and we pass orders but while passing orders we also direct that if you are cutting 200 trees in connection with a project to ought to plant 10 times more."

Thakur mentioned that the apex court has passed so many orders that the total number of trees by way of afforestation work 3,50,000 trees.

In order to find out whether those trees have been planted and how much money has been spent on the plantation the court appointed an expert committee.

"To our utter disappointment the report was that there was no plantation anywhere and our orders to plant 10 times more trees where in complete breach and yet crores of rupees had been said to have been spent on plantation," he said.

"If you call this judicial overreach we can only say sorry it may continue for a long time," he said emphatically.

Stating another example, Thakur mentioned the floods in Jammu & Kashmir last year.

He said that the floods were not a result of "judicial overreach".

"They came because the flood channels which were meant to take the excess water out of the Jhelum were blocked because of the government's inability to prevent encroachments."

Concluding that list is endless and can go on, he said, "We have faced this criticism for a long time and it will continue but the judiciary does not get deterred by this criticism but it helps us in ensuring that the law takes its own course."

PTI

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Updated Date: Mar 15, 2015 19:53:20 IST