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HC strikes down notification on shifting Goa cases to Delhi NGT

HC strikes down notification on shifting Goa cases to Delhi NGT

11 Oct 2017 No comment 31 hits

PANAJI: In an order that is expected to help greens, the High Court of Bombay at Goa has struck down the notification issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) that mandated relocating the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) jurisdiction for Goa-related cases from Pune to New Delhi.

The High Court had taken up the matter as a suo motu writ petition/PIL. Petitions were also filed by social activists challenging the decision of the Union Ministry to shift the jurisdiction of Goa from NGT in Pune to New Delhi.

In its judgement on Wednesday, the division bench of the High Court comprising Justices G S Patel and N D Sardessai said that by our order of August 21, 2017, we directed that no files should be transferred from the Western Region Bench to New Delhi.

In view of the judgment, the Western Region Bench will now be entitled to proceed with the hearings of cases filed before it.

The High Court observed, “What falls for our consideration, therefore, is this: Can the government ever be heard to say that it finds more convenient for its officers to go to this and that place and, therefore, the Tribunal should be shifted to a place of convenience to the government? Can the question of convenience of the government ever be a rational consideration in deciding the territorial jurisdiction of a Tribunal or its place of sitting?”

The High Court also observed that Pune can hardly be said to be a place having low connectivity. There are options of travel by road, rail and by air, both from Mumbai and directly to Pune, even if direct air connections from Goa to Pune are less than might be desired. Road and rail travel is out of the question in reaching Delhi. That more or less completely eliminates the common litigant. It leaves us with consideration of only the affluent, those who can afford air travel and the expensive taxi travel once in Delhi.

The High Court, while praising the state, observed, “Above all, there is one overarching concern. This is an extraordinary state, in more ways than one, a place where, perhaps more than anywhere else, sky, sea and earth meet. From horizon to horizon, it is a land of abundant richness. It is a land of confluences, where diverse strands meet and co-exist; and, in a time of apparently incessant strife and discord, it is still a mostly liberal land. It is a kind and gentle land, of a kind and gentle people. And it is also a land that, given its small size and small population, has had a wholly disproportionate influence on our art, culture, language, music, literature, architecture, history, design and more (even food, for many of what we consider our staples first came from here).”

“Its greatest asset is one: its environment and its ecology — its rivers and riverbanks, its beaches, its lakes and clear streams, its dense forests, its low hills and fertile fields, its boulders and even trees shrouded with moss and vines and lichen in the rains, its ridiculously brilliant sunsets. One needs only to turn off an arterial road to either east or west to see all this first-hand, and all of it within but a few minutes. If the NGT in Pune has so very many cases from Goa, it is not because — or not just because — the people of Goa are litigious; if true, that may only speak to their continued faith in the legal system and its processes. It is because they perceive that there is something of value here to protect. Few are frivolous causes; in the past few weeks, we saw none. Many, and perhaps most, are of very serious concern, raising vital questions of both public law and environmental governance,” the High Court said.

The High Court also observed that to be sure, the government has before it a delicate balancing task of safeguarding the environment and providing for development. What is important, however, is that a cause must be brought for an issue to be addressed. In our experience, one that none can deny, we have seen a very large number of worthy causes. Our duty, and that of every government too, must be to ensure that these attempts to protect the environment can be brought to a forum that is close at hand, where environmental issues can be addressed quickly, without having to travel inordinate distances, and at a cost that the poorest in the land, not just the well-heeled, can afford. These are, after all, struggles for a better tomorrow.”

“This or that particular cause may be lost. But no cause should be allowed to be lost for want of trying. For that, we have those who petition us. Equally certainly, no cause should be allowed to be lost for want of a court. That is up to us, and to the government. For this is something none can deny: this is a land truly worth fighting for. We say this because, though we cannot command it, we can most emphatically commend it: that both the state government and the MoEF must immediately take up with all seriousness the proposal to establish a Circuit Bench in Goa.”

Source: HC strikes down notification on shifting Goa cases to Delhi NGT

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