'Not In Sealed Cover' : Supreme Court Says While Asking Centre To Give Recommendations To Reconstitute CEC
The green bench of the Supreme Court of India on Friday directed a committee appointed by it for monitoring the implementation of its orders and highlighting incidents of non-compliance, to be reconstituted with younger members. For that purpose, a division bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Vikram Nath urged the solicitor-general and the two amici curiae to propose the...
The green bench of the Supreme Court of India on Friday directed a committee appointed by it for monitoring the implementation of its orders and highlighting incidents of non-compliance, to be reconstituted with younger members. For that purpose, a division bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Vikram Nath urged the solicitor-general and the two amici curiae to propose the names of subject-matter experts who could be appointed to the committee. Addressing the Solicitor-General for India, Tushar Mehta, Justice Gavai said, “Give us some names, Mr Solicitor.” Then, the Supreme Court judge quipped, “Not in a sealed cover though.”
Justice Gavai’s passing remark is the latest in a series of comments made by judges of the top court that highlighted its changing attitude towards the ‘sealed cover’ procedure. Recently, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud also made headlines after he refused to accept a confidential note submitted by the central government in a matter relating to the disbursal of pension arrears to retired defence personnel under the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme.
This order was passed while the bench was considering an application filed in the T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad case, an omnibus forest protection matter in which the top court issued the longest-standing continuing mandamus in the field of environmental litigation. In 2002, a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) was also constituted for monitoring the implementation of the court’s orders and bringing to its attention, incidents of non-compliance.
Senior advocate and amicus curiae ADN Rao urged the bench to reconsider its earlier order passed in February of this year, allowing a convention centre to be constructed at Patnitop in Jammu and Kashmir after demolishing an existing dilapidated club building belonging to the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation, in light of a CEC report that was filed in March, after this order had already been passed. The committee, the report revealed, was not in favour of the proposed construction in the forested area. “Is the CEC an appellate authority above a division bench of the Supreme Court?” Justice Gavai asked. The bench also passed a detailed order categorically stating that no ‘valid reasons’ could be discerned to consider the said report by the CEC.
The bench stated in the order :
“Once an order has been passed by this court, it is not appropriate for an authority constituted under our orders to give a report which questions the correctness or otherwise, of our orders. An authority which is constituted under an order of this court cannot consider itself to be an appellate authority above this court.”
In this connection, it was brought to the court’s notice that out of the five members of the court-appointed committee, only two or three were active. “I request you to please have a relook at the composition of the committee because they are stretched too thin. For this Patnitop construction, they did a site visit in May of last year. It cannot be fathomed why the report was delayed by more than nine months. A fact-finding committee cannot operate with most members above 75 or 80 years of age,” amicus curiae K Parameshwar told the bench. The solicitor-general added, “On behalf of the central government, I would also urge you to have a relook.”
After considering the submissions made by the counsel with respect to the need for replacing the current members of the CEC with younger experts, the bench pronounced:
“Some of the members the committee have crossed the age of 75 years, while some live abroad. There is no doubt that the committee has rendered enormous service to the cause of the environment. However, for effective functioning of the committee, experts who are relatively younger than the present incumbents and who can contribute in a more energetic and efficient manner should be appointed. We request the solicitor-general and both the amici curiae to give a list of persons who have expertise in the field of environment and ecology within three weeks.”
The bench further informed the counsel that they would consider the recommendations when the matter is taken up for hearing again on Wednesday, April 19.
In Re: T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India & Ors. | Writ Petition (Civil) No. 202 of 1995