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In Case Of Doubt, Protection Of Environment Would've Precedence Over Economic Interest: SC Revokes Approval For Doubling Castlerock to Kulem Railway Line

Ashok KM
11 May 2022 5:02 AM GMT
In Case Of Doubt, Protection Of Environment Wouldve Precedence Over Economic Interest: SC Revokes Approval For Doubling Castlerock to Kulem Railway Line
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The Supreme Court revoked the approval granted by the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for doubling of existing railway line from Castlerock (Karnataka) to Kulem (Goa).

The bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, B R Gavai and Aniruddha Bose observed that the assessment of the impact which the project would have on the environment..would have to be strictly undertaken before the project is considered by the NBWL.

The court upheld the recommendation made by Central Empowered Committee ('CEC') in this regard.

The Goa Foundation had filed an application before the CEC on 26.06.2020 stating that the Standing Committee of NBWL had recommended granting wildlife clearances for doubling of 26 km stretch of the railway line in Western Ghats from Castlerock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa in violation of the order passed by the Supreme Court on 05.10.2015.

The bench made the following observations on the principle of law on sustainable development and precautionary principle to examine whether the recommendation made by the CEC should be accepted.

Adherence to the principle of sustainable development is a constitutional requirement

Adherence to the principle of sustainable development is a constitutional requirement. While applying the principle of sustainable development one must bear in mind that development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, Courts are required to balance development needs with the protection of the environment and ecology . It is the duty of the State under our Constitution to devise and implement a coherent and coordinated programme to meet its obligation of sustainable development based on inter-generational equity . While economic development should not be allowed to take place at the cost of ecology or by causing widespread environment destruction and violation; at the same time, the necessity to preserve ecology and environment should not hamper economic and other developments. Both development and environment must go hand in hand, in other words, there should not be development at the cost of environment and vice versa, but there should be development while taking due care and ensuring the protection of environment.

Precautionary Principle essential feature of the principle of 'Sustainable Development'

In Vellore Citizens' Welfare Forum v. Union of India , this Court held that the 'Precautionary Principle' is an essential feature of the principle of 'Sustainable Development ...The principle of precaution involves the anticipation of environmental harm and taking measures to avoid it or to choose the least environmentally harmful activity. It is based on scientific uncertainty. Environmental protection should not only aim at protecting health, property and economic interest but also protect the environment for its own sake. Precautionary duties must not only be triggered by the suspicion of concrete danger but also by justified concern or risk potential.

In case of a doubt, protection of environment would have precedence over the economic interest

A situation may arise where there may be irreparable damage to the environment after an activity is allowed to go ahead and if it is stopped, there may be irreparable damage to economic interest . This Court held that in case of a doubt, protection of environment would have precedence over the economic interest. It was further held that precautionary principle requires anticipatory action to be taken to prevent harm and that harm can be prevented even on a reasonable suspicion. Further, this Court emphasises in the said judgment that it is not always necessary that there should be direct evidence of harm to the environment.

Assessment of the impact which the project would have on the environment have to be strictly undertaken

Referring to the material on record, the court said if finds merit in the recommendations made by the CEC regarding the necessity of taking into account the actual loss of the wildlife habitat by the construction activity for the doubling of the railway line for which heavy machinery would have to be moved and crusher units will have to be established for dumping construction material.

"The impact of the increase of section capacity by 2.5 times than by doubling the railway line in comparison to the single line along with increased mobility on wildlife problems in terms of sound pollution, vibrations etc. has not been taken into account by the Standing Committee of NBWL while recommending the project. Assessment of the impact which the project would have on the environment, especially in the protected area and wildlife sanctuary taking into account all the major factors such as the impact on the habitat, species, climate, temperature etc. caused due to felling of trees (not only for the laying of railway tracks but also for the secondary works such as setting up machinery, disposal of waste, and putting in place various mitigation measures etc.), movement of trains, human-wildlife interactions would have to be strictly undertaken before the project is considered by the NBWL. There is also no credible supporting data for the projections that are given by RVNL relating to the traffic between Karnataka and Goa project for the period 2022-2023 and 2030-2031 and there is no explanation regarding the projected traffic for the next 4-5 years which is required for the completion of the construction of the project. Such data, projections and speculations will have to be supported by an independent and credible source before undertaking any kind of construction activity in the Western Ghats which is world's eight hotspots of biological diversity.

While accepting the recommendation of CEC, the bench observed:

"We uphold the conclusion of the CEC and revoke the approval granted by the Standing Committee of NBWL for doubling the railway line between Castlerock to Kulem. However, this will not preclude the RVNL to carry out a detailed analysis on the impact of the proposed project on the biodiversity and ecology of the protected areas under the wildlife sanctuary as indicated hereinabove and then submit a fresh proposal to the Standing Committee of NBWL which shall be considered in accordance with law"

Case details

T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union Of India | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 467 | I.A. No. 61370 of 2021 [Report No. 06 0f 2021] | 9 May 2022

Coram: Justices L Nageswara Rao, B R Gavai and Aniruddha Bose

Counsel: Sr. Adv A.D.N. Rao for the CEC, Adv Prashant Bhushan for Goa Foundation, Adv Sanjay Upadhyay for RVNL. Adv. Balbir Singh for Ministry of Railways.

Headnotes

Environmental Law - Adherence to the principle of sustainable development is a constitutional requirement- Precautionary Principle essential feature of the principle of 'Sustainable Development' - In case of a doubt, protection of environment would have precedence over the economic interest - Precautionary principle requires anticipatory action to be taken to prevent harm and that harm can be prevented even on a reasonable suspicion. (Para 15-18)

Summary: Supreme Court revoked the approval granted by the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for doubling of existing railway line from Castlerock (Karnataka) to Kulem (Goa) - Assessment of the impact which the project would have on the environment, especially in the protected area and wildlife sanctuary taking into account all the major factors such as the impact on the habitat, species, climate, temperature etc. caused due to felling of trees (not only for the laying of railway tracks but also for the secondary works such as setting up machinery, disposal of waste, and putting in place various mitigation measures etc.), movement of trains, human-wildlife interactions would have to be strictly undertaken before the project is considered by the NBWL.

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