SC grants approval to permanent body of experts for consultation on environment issues

NewsDrum Desk
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New Delhi, Jan 31 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted its approval to a permanent body of experts set up by the Centre for consultation on issues linked to environment and forest cases, replacing the two-decade-old Central Empowered Committee (CEC).

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had issued a notification on September 5 last year under Section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, constituting the CEC as a permanent body.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice B R Gavai, however, said that the top court would continue to exercise judicial review, particularly in environmental matters, whenever necessary.

"We find that by virtue of the notification dated September 5, 2023, our concerns regarding the functioning of the CEC as an ad hoc body and that hereinafter it should be institutionalised as a permanent body have been taken care of.

"The said notification provides for the constitution of the CEC, its powers, functions, mandate, members, method of appointment, terms of service, and monitoring of its functioning," the bench also comprising Justices P S Narasimha and Prashant Kumar Mishra said.

The top court said the present CEC consisted of persons who are more than 75 years of age and some of whom are also residing outside India.

"We also noticed that much water had flown when the CEC was initially constituted, inasmuch as, various enactments concerning environmental issues were enacted, so also various regulatory bodies were constituted under the said enactments. We further found it necessary to have a relook at the CEC’s functioning," the bench said.

The CEC was originally directed to be constituted by an order of the apex court dated May 9, 2002 and it was functioning as an ad hoc body for almost for a period of two decades.

The top court said the role of the constitutional courts is to ensure that environmental bodies function vibrantly, and are assisted by robust infrastructure and human resources.

The constitutional courts will monitor the functioning of these institutions so that the environment and ecology is not only protected but also enriched, it said.

With a view to promote institutional transparency, efficiency, and accountability in its functioning, the bench directed CEC to formulate guidelines for the conduct of its functions and internal meetings.

"The CEC shall formulate the operating procedures delineating the roles of its members and the secretary.... The CEC shall formulate guidelines about the public meetings that it holds, ensure the publication of meeting agenda in advance on its website, maintain minutes of meetings, and set out rules regarding notice to parties," the bench said.

The CEC shall formulate guidelines for site visits and, if necessary, hearing the public and affected parties therein, it said.

"The CEC shall formulate guidelines fixing time limits for site visits, preparation of reports, and also the manner of preparation of reports. We further direct that these guidelines/regulations must be accessible for anyone to seek. They shall be posted on the official website of the CEC," the bench said.

According to a notification by the MoEF, the new CEC will consist of a chairperson, a member secretary and three expert members, all of whom will be nominated or appointed by the Centre. PTI PKS SMN SMN