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Environment Protection Act Passed At Instance Of 'Foreign Powers', Says NHAI; Karnataka High Court Takes Strong Objection

Mustafa Plumber
11 Jan 2021 2:12 PM GMT
Environment Protection Act Passed At Instance Of Foreign Powers, Says NHAI; Karnataka High Court Takes Strong Objection
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HC termed the statement 'scandalous'.

The Karnataka High Court on Monday took strong exception to a statement made by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) that the Environment Protection Act 1986, has been passed by the Parliament "at the instance of foreign powers." The statement of objection in this regard reads thus "Whereas the decisions were taken at the United Nations conference on the Human Environment...

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The Karnataka High Court on Monday took strong exception to a statement made by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) that the Environment Protection Act 1986, has been passed by the Parliament "at the instance of foreign powers."

The statement of objection in this regard reads thus "Whereas the decisions were taken at the United Nations conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in June 1972, in which India participated to take appropriate steps for the protection and improvement of the Human environment. Hence the Act has been passed not only for the protection of environment but also at the instance of foreign powers."

The NHAI also said that many NGOs are filing PILs at the instance of 'foreign powers'

The bizarre claim has been made in the statement of objection filed by R B Pekam, working as Deputy General Manager (T) in the regional office of the National Highways Authority of India, Bangalore. The reply was filed while opposing a petition filed by United Conservation Movement Charitable and Welfare Trust , through it advocate Prince Isac, challenging the notification dated August 22, 2013 issued by the MoEF &CC, which recommends exemption of EIA process for expansion of National Highways.

A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum took strong exception to the affidavit, it said:

"We are shocked to know approach of agencies and instrumentality of the state, they want the court to believe that entire exercise of framing the Environment Protection Act is undertaken at the instance of Foreign powers."

After noting that the the statement has invited the Court's displeasure, the NHAI sought to withdraw it.

But the bench observed in the order :

"We cannot casually allow withdrawal of statement of objection in which bold stand is taken by NHAI on oath, that Environment Protection Act, is not only for protection of environment but at instance on foreign powers."

It added that:
"The entire objection proceeds on the footing that PIL is initiated by organisations working in the field of environment with hidden aims."

The court said : "Needless to say that NHAI is the creation of NHAI Act and it is an agency and instrumentality of the state. We direct the Chairman of NHAI to nominate a very senior officer, to look into the statement of objections filed by NHAI before this court."

It added :

"NHAI being an agency and instrumentality of the state is under obligation to explain to the court procedure if any adopted for finalizing the statement of objection filed before the court. Considering the seriousness of the issue we hope and trust that the Chairman of NHAI will entrust the inquiry to a very senior officer into the entire episode of filing statements of objections."

The bench also said that "If NHAI does not want to support the stand taken already in the statement of objection, it must come clean before the court and state what action it has taken against the person filing such objections."

The court said that "Whether the petition has merit or not NHAI must be saddled with exemplary cost. We are not passing any order today as we are awaiting the report of the higher officer appointed by the Chairman of NHAI."

The court rejected the prayer made by the counsel for NHAI to permit him to withdraw the statement of objection, unless a proper application is made, by higher officers of NHAI after carrying out an inquiry as aforesaid and after making a proper ground, seeking withdrawal of the statement of objections.

The bench said "Don't be under the impression that we will easily allow withdrawal of this objection. This is scandalous."

Before concluding Chief Justice Oka said "I have been a judge of HC for 17 and half years and have not seen such obnoxious statements presented by a public sector undertaking before the court."

The report on inquiry made by the officer appointed by the Chairman has to be filed before the court in a sealed envelope by January 31. The matter has been posted for further hearing on February 2.

Petitioner acting with foreign vested interest, NHAI alleges

Another allegation made in the reply states that many NGOs are filing petitions at the instance of foreign powers.

In this regard the objection reads thus:

"It is submitted that there are many organisations in India calling themselves as Environmental Action Groups and Human Rights Groups, such as Amnesty International etc, which are actively involved in attacking developmental projects and challenging the government policies and notifications and doing anti-national activities. There are many NGOs receiving funds from foreign sources and church funds in contraventions of laws."

The statement of objection has also alleged that NGO Wildlife First Trustee, filed a petition before the Apex court (Wp Civil 109/2008) and obtained a stay order from the apex court on the eviction of lakhs of so called scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers whose claims for forest land rights have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act of 2006. That such litigations are initiated with vested interest, individuals and groups with hidden aims and thereby discrimination against the respondent (NHAI).

The Statement also says that there is a bar on the Courts under Section 22 of the Environment Protection Act from interfering with the action for the Central Government:

"The petitioners are barred from challenging the impugned notification dated 22/08/2013 of the Ministry of Environment and Forest in so far as it relates to the amendment of National Highways as it I has been promulgated on practical grounds of permitting improvement and development of national highways. Under section 22 of Environment Protection Act there is a bar on courts from interfering with the action for the Central Government. "

Adding "It is submitted that though the bar generally applies to civil courts the decisions of the Central government are generally not interfered with on any challenge by vested interest groups and those inimical to public interest and also National Highways being improved or developed."

While opposing the petition a peculiar stand is also taken by NHAI stating that petition has quoted passages from books written by Duniway and Herrick 2011, Katz et all 2014, shows that the writ petition may have been filed at the instance of foreign vested interest.

The affidavit reads thus: "The reference to foreign authors, Bruzineel 2004, slide etc all 2006, Chadwick et all 2006, in the para all show that the petitioner has relied on foreign authors and their books as material for targeting the respondents. It is well known that India is rising in the world economically, having achieved the status of having the 5th largest economy and certain western powers and India's enemy neighbors are envious of and want to hit development projects of the central and state governments. As also create large scale public unrest and even funding them. The reference material extracted from the book of siddie, 2006 confirms the above view that vested interest may be involved."

To which the court said "Only because petitioner has referred to and relied on what foreign authors have written the NHAI has drawn an inference that a vested interest may be involved."

In another paragraph the statement reads thus "The power under the Environment Protection Act is not only to restrict dangerous activities but also to permit harmless activities and operations as also those with minimal environment damage. Therefore it cannot be said that it is only to prevent control and abatement of environmental pollution." To which the court said "This shows the understanding of the authority about the Environment Protection Act.

The court has also directed the petitioner to give details of its constitution and activities carried out by it in the field of environment and other fields. Also disclose if it is receiving any funds from foreign organizations. It clarified that "The direction against petitioner does not mean that we have accepted the reckless allegation made by NHAI."


Click Here To Download Statement

[Read Statement]



Click Here To Download Order

[Read Order]



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