Supreme Court judge Justice MB Lokur questioned the government over non-utilisation of amounts, collected as compensatory afforestation funds for environmental purposes, and justified judicial activism, saying it had to “come” in the absence of laws or their shoddy implementation.
“The green bench of the Supreme Court has been passing orders and huge amounts of money running into thousands of crores of rupees have been collected by the government. Where has that money gone? Certainly it has not gone for the improvement of the environment, because over the last few years, we have seen degradation of the environment and defoliation of forests,” Justice Lokur said.
He was speaking at the valedictory session of the ‘International Conference on Environment’, organised by the National Green tribunal (NGT).
Union minister Prakash Javadekar rebutted the assertion and said, “The government has a good account of how we have collected the money and it is using it on renewable (energy) and climate change. It is not diverted anywhere.”
Justice Lokur said there was a dearth of environmental laws in the country and added that Parliament needed to frame laws on a variety of issues confronting the mankind.
“We need to frame laws, so that there is a clear understanding of the problems,” he added.
The apex court judge said that although excellent laws had been framed in the country, the implementation part remained “shoddy”.
Responding to the allegations of judicial activism, he said it had to “come about” as there was no option but to be active, due to the absence of laws or their shoddy implementation.
Justice Lokur pointed out that the Supreme Court had been involved in environmental jurisprudence since long and said the courts alone could not bear the burden, the government must also bear it.
Javadekar said India was the only country which taxed coal production at the rate of six US dollars per tonne, which no other country in the world had done so far, and added that the government was committed to using cleaner methods for generating power.
He said the government, in a move to fight pollution, aimed at implementing the Bharat Standard (BS) VI emission norms by January 1, 2020 and added that it had already issued instructions to all the automobile manufacturers in this regard.
“But, you need time and it cannot happen overnight. You cannot stop the vehicles from plying. There has to be a concrete and feasible plan,” the minister added.
Stressing on the need for sustainable development, Javadekar said, development and environment were not rivals. He gave the example of the Delhi Metro and said when it was launched, some NGOs had created a controversy over felling of trees.
“Now, there are 200 metro stations and nearly 20,000 trees were cut. But, 60-70 per cent of those were replanted. Three million passengers travel every day in an environment- friendly manner. This is how we should look at the problem holistically,” Javadekar said.
The human resource development (HRD) minister said there was a huge challenge before the country as it accounted for 2.5 per cent of the world’s land, but had to cater to 17 per cent of the world’s population, which was a massive burden on its resources.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal laid emphasis on ways to combat climate change and said he was looking at 100 per cent electrification of the entire fleet of the railways as even after seven decades since Independence, 50 per cent of the trains entering Delhi had diesel engines.
Stating that India had already achieved 12,200 MW of solar capacity, Goyal reiterated that the country was well poised to reach its target of a 100-GW capacity by 2022.
He said it was the sensitivity of the NDA government and “the commitment of all of us collectively to work towards achieving sustainable lifestyles”, which would make it possible.
Goyal, who also holds the coal portfolio, said his ministry used the ISRO’s satellite technology to map areas, which had been converted into forests, and put them in the public domain.
Stating that protecting the environment was one of the fundamental principles of all the religions, he quoted from the Granth Sahib: “The purpose of human beings is to achieve a blissful state and to be in harmony with earth and all of god’s creations.”
NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar also spoke on the occasion and said the green panel had added new dimensions to the facets of environmental jurisprudence.