In Court

Published: Friday 28 February 1997

Of late, the public and the private sectors saw a great deal of activism by the Supreme Court (SC) and high courts (HC). The injunctions were aimed at making procedural operations transparent and curbing environmental degradation. Some of the recent court orders are enlisted below:

Following an SC ruling on December 19, 1996, banning total movement of cut trees and timber from any of the seven northeastern states, India's Rs 800-crore agarbatti (incense sticks) industry is facing total closure. With a supply of 5,000 tonne of bamboo slits, the northeast was meeting 95 per cent of the country's total demand. Rough estimates indicate the turnover be Rs 800-1,000 crore. The ban is likely to affect over a million workers rolling agarbattis in Karnataka.

The SC order also placed Assam's plywood industry in a tight spot. The industry, the second biggest in the state after tea, has 48 mills scattered in three upper Assam districts, many of them already closed down due to paucity of materials.

The SC recently set aside the orders of the Orissa HC, which by a writ of mandamus , had directed the state to issue "timber transit permits" to respondents (certain 'displaced persons') for collecting timber situated within the "reserved forest area". The SC said, "Except with prior permission of the Central government, deforestation is impermissible." Justices K Ramaswamy and G T Nanavathi adverted to relevant provisions of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, observing that the HC had overlooked "crucial statutory provisions" which restrict dereservation of forests or use of forest land for non-forest purposes.

On January 24, the Central pollution control board issued showcause notices to 26 large polluting units three years after the expiry of their deadline to comply with the orders. The units, located in 10 states, include 15 sugar factories, six distilleries, two pulp and paper units, two fertiliser plants and one dye unit. These are a part of the 168 units booked in September 1996 ( Down To Earth , Vol 5, No 15), but did not respond to the repeated reminders of the ministry of environment and forests (MEF).

On September 6, 1996, the SC had asked the Delhi Police to ensure that 513 hazardous industries blacklisted by the Delhi pollution control committee (DPCC) that were ordered to shut down, complied with the court orders. The deadline for the closure was January 31, 1997. But recently during investigations, the police stumbled upon 290 non-existent units and found that several of the listed addresses were residential. The goof-up in this case happened because of the DPCC, which had not cross-checked with the original list of errant units before submitting its report to the SC.

Yet another goof-up! Although a notification constituting a high-powered experts' committee was issued by the MEF for protecting the environment of Maharashtra's Dahanu taluka in December 1996, members of the committee are yet to be intimated about their appointment. C S Dharmadhikari, retired justice, Bombay HC, who was stated to be the committee's chairperson, responding to a recent query said, "Are you sure I am the chairperson of the committee? This is news to me." V W Deshpande, deputy secretary, urban development department, who reportedly is the member secretary, also said, "I have not received a copy of the notification."

The green bench of the Chennai HC ordered the South India Viscose Industries to shut down its viscose staple fibre and rayon plants with effect from January 27, taking serious note of the effluent being released by the unit into the Bhavani river. Opposition members in the state assembly called for a policy decision seeking to resolve the conflict between environmental protection and industrial activity.

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