New Delhi: The Supreme Court has set up a special bench directly under Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia to fast-track decisions on crucial environmental disputes.
This has been spun out of the existing Green Bench (also called the Forest Bench). While the special bench under the chief justice will hear important matters such as mining in forests and large development projects, a new bench headed by justice B. Sudershan Reddy will hear all other environment-related matters every Monday.
Speaking to a crowded courtroom, Kapadia said the measures were being taken to ensure the speedy disposal of important cases. Once a matter comes before the special bench, which sits every Friday, it will be speedily dealt with. “This is how we have decided to operate,” he said.
The court will be listing only three cases every week as it is unlikely that more than one case will be heard at a sitting.
There are several pressing cases pending before the erstwhile Green Bench, including matters of mining in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh involving Obulapuram Mining Co. Pvt. Ltd (which is owned by Karantaka BJP MLA and minister G. Janardhan Reddy), the case involving French cement firm Lafarge SA’s limestone mining operations in Meghalaya (which exports the raw material to Bangladesh), and the case of mining in the Aravalli hills.
The first case pending before the bench is the construction of a park in Noida near the Okhla bird sanctuary, which is likely to be heard next Friday. Once the announcement about the division of the Green Bench was made, the court was adjourned within 15 minutes of its sitting, in spite of the presence of several parties that had cases listed for the day.
According to environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, the hearings before the Green Bench on Friday had become an issue since only two hours had been set aside for several cases.
“There’s a very serious backlog of cases. The concern is not about projects being delayed, but in cases where projects get over and (are) done by the time litigation is over. Those who are coming to protect (the) environment should be heard in time,” said Dutta.
Environmental author Kanchi Kohli, who works with NGO Kalpavriksh, said that it was an important decision. “However, we do hope that increasing the efficiency is directed in favour of forest conservation and rights of forest dependent communities, rather than expediting clearances and approvals to projects.”
Padmaparna Ghosh contributed to this story.