17 March 2023 4:45 AM GMT
“We have become like micro-administrators,” the green bench of the Supreme Court said on Monday(March 13) while hearing an application moved by an expert committee constituted to “guide and direct” the National Tiger Conservation Authority with respect to India’s ambitious cheetah reintroduction programme. While hearing a plea to direct the statutory body to keep the...
“We have become like micro-administrators,” the green bench of the Supreme Court said on Monday(March 13) while hearing an application moved by an expert committee constituted to “guide and direct” the National Tiger Conservation Authority with respect to India’s ambitious cheetah reintroduction programme. While hearing a plea to direct the statutory body to keep the court-appointed committee apprised of latest developments and accept their advice and submissions, a bench of Justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath signalled a strong disinclination to interfere with the centre’s plan to release these felines translocated from the African continent, into the wild in India. Justice Gavai said:
“Yes, the National Tiger Conservation Authority is an expert body that is concerned with the conservation of tigers in India. So, once that body is there, why should we have further supervision? We are expanding the work of this court by appointing these committees we have to supervise and which in turn, report to us. We are becoming almost like micro-administrators.”
Senior advocate Prashanto Chandra Sen, appearing for the court-appointed committee, however, argued that the NTCA was not directly involved in the negotiations with the African authorities for the translocation of the cheetahs. This is why, he claimed, the expert body was appointed by the court. Justice Vikram Nath countered, “If NTCA can deal with tigers, they can deal with cheetahs.”
In response, Sen pointed out that the court-appointed body was helmed by Dr Ranjit Sinh, “a well-known expert in the field of cheetah” and a retired IAS officer who served as a Director of Wildlife Preservation in the central government. “The cheetahs were declared extinct in India. So there are not many experts in the field.” Sen also emphasised that the terms of the contract of the expert committee members had indicated that they would continue to be consulted.
“If the NTCA needs their help, they can always seek it out,” Justice Nath said.
The senior counsel attempted, “What is happening today is that actions are being taken. For instance, the government has brought 20 cheetahs…”
Justice Nath exclaimed, “How do we decide if 20 cheetahs are needed, or 22, or 15? This requires closure. Let the environment ministry deal with all this.”
Sen responded, “There is nothing adversarial about this. The only thing I want to point out is that there is a direction of this court mandating information to be given to the expert committee before taking any action.”
“So there are three tiers – one NTCA, then the expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court to which NTCA will report, and finally, this court, to which our committee will report. Right?” Justice Gavai asked.
No, Sen said, “There is only one tier comprising this committee supported by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the National Biodiversity Authority. This is not adversarial. They are both working.”
Justice Gavai firmly explained that the order was passed to mitigate certain concerns that were prevalent then. Under those circumstances, the NTCA was directed to approach the top court for permission. The court discharged the limited responsibility of deciding whether permission was to be granted. “Personally, why should the court intervene in such matters?” Justice Gavai asked. He added:
“The court does not possess the expertise. Time and again we are saying the same thing that we cannot foray into the domain of the experts.”
“All I am saying is that meetings are going on with respect to the cheetah project. The government should inform the committee which has been appointed by this court they are taking action and accept their advice and submissions. That is all.”
Solicitor-General for India Tushar Mehta interjected at this point, saying, “If this court required the assistance of this committee, it would call upon them. How can they insist that their advice must be sought, irrespective of whether it is needed?”
“Unfortunately, that is the direction by this court,” Justice Gavai responded, after which the top law officer told the bench that the central government intended to file an application for recalling the earlier order envisioning the supervision of the court-appointed expert committee. The bench agreed to hear the application together with the present plea by the expert body, directing the matters to be listed for further directions on Friday, March 28.
It was on January 29, 2020 that the Court passed the order to constitute a Committee of Experts to supervise and survey Centre's plan to introduce African Cheetahs in the territory of India
Centre for Environment Law WWF-I v. Union of India | WP (C) No 337/1995
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