The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice U.U. Lalit and Justice Ravindra Bhat dismissed a PIL challenging the Draft Notification published by Central Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, demarcating over 55 sq.KM area as 'Western Ghats Ecologically Sensitive Area'.
The plea had been filed by a Kerala based NGO, Karshaka Shabdam (Voice of Farmers), alleging that the impugned notification dated 03.10.2018 violated the right to life and livelihood of the farmers guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
At the outset, CJI Lalit enquired why there had been such a delay in challenging the notification. To this, the petitioner stated that they had been contacting stakeholders and the process took some time. However, CJI Lalit was not convinced and stated–
"The draft notification was of 2018. You challenged this after 4 years. Draft notification is only to show intention of executive and to seek opinion from general public. You must challenge the latest notification. We cannot entertain such stale petitions."
To give a background of the notification, in October 2018, MoEF had issued a notification demarcating an area of 56,825 sq.KM spread across six states namely, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, as the Western Ghats Ecologically Sensitive Area, based on the Gadgil Committee report and the Kasturirangan committee Report. The Petitioner had submitted that while these notifications were aimed at preserving and conserving Western Ghats, they had not considered essential factors such as population, practicality in displacement, source of livelihood etc. It was alleged that the intent of the consequent MoEF notification sought to "disrupt lives and discourage agriculture" in the State.
The petition had urged that a direction be made to the State of Kerala to not implement the Gadgil Committee report, for the following reasons:
a) No space to displace population from one place to another within the state;
b) There are a large group which are completely dependent on agriculture and banning cultivation of several crops will affect their livelihood;
c) In many villages there are small scale business run by people who uniquely produce soaps, hair oils, tubes and tyre repairs etc. which will be able to produce from that particular topography.
The Petition had also asserted that 'Land' was a subject under the State List as per the Constitution of India and all powers and authority to control, regulate and put it to use should be vested in the state Government only. It was urged that the State Government could not "surrender" its own authority and place the control, regulation of more of its land area under the Central Government.
The bench dismissed the petition stating that–
"Learned counsel appearing for the petitioner has accepted that this draft Notification was followed by subsequent draft Notification dated 06.07.2022. He further submits that his client has already raised objections to said draft Notification dated 06.07.2022 and the final Notification is yet to be issued. Considering these facts, we do not find any reason to exercise our jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The instant writ petition is, therefore, dismissed."
Case Title: Karshaka Shabdam v. Union of India & Anr. | W.P. (C) 425/2021