In a blunt message to Supreme Court, Centre has asked it to wind up its Green Bench on the ground that it has outlived its utility and is hurting the objective of preservation of forests.
The Bench's orders on the basis of advice given by lay persons have contributed in accentuating poverty, social unrest and a spurt in Naxal activities in major states, the Centre said in what marked an unprecedented display of belligerence.
The three-judge Green Bench, a significant innovation which has traditionally been headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), has passed several landmark judgments, orders and directions for implementation of the Forest Conservation Act in the last 12 years.
But the interventions which earned its applause were resented by the executive which saw them as intrusion. The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) makes no bones of its anguish, saying that the prolonged hearing on the writ petition filed in 1995, as well as 1,700 applications attached to it, has resulted in judiciary usurping the executive’s powers.
"Such a large number of applications testify to the fact that the separation of powers between different organs of the government, and mutual respect, are being eroded," the MoEF said in its affidavit seeking vacation of the stay on the functioning of Forest Advisory Committee constituted by it.
The stand-off between the Centre and the apex court emanated from the disagreement over choice of independent experts to the FAC, strongly espoused by amicus curiae Harish Salve, who wanted inclusion of independent experts like Belinda Wrights and Bittoo Sehgal.
MoEF made known its scant regard for the views of lawyers and social activists assisting the court in forest matters. While referring to them as "lay persons", it even accused them of influencing the court orders that has led to social problems like spurt in Naxal activities in forests.
The MoEF said the way hearings in the apex court had gone clearly showed that "advocates, who are experts in law not in forestry, and social activists, who may espouse social causes without any background of scientific issues that may have given rise to that issue, have tried to influence hearings in the cases through submissions on aspects which are in the domain of forestry science".
Such a situation may not only lead to errors of judgment but also result in accentuating poverty and social unrest, the Centre said. "The growing Naxalism in vast forest tracts of major Indian states is often directed against the disenfranchisement of forest-dependent population because of overtly centralising episodes of forestry administration," it added.
The apex court's frequent reliance on these lay persons' opinion has led to a situation where scientific forestry practices have been ignored in the name of compliance of law to the detriment of long-term sustainability of forests through people's participation, the Centre said.
If such a procedure was followed any further, it would lead to forests being at "extreme risk", which is contrary to what the Supreme Court hoped to achieve when it intervened 12 years ago, it added.
The Centre and states have taken a host of measures and policy decisions for the preservation of forest wealth. Hence, the apex court should wind up the Forest Bench and dispose of the writ petitions seeking a direction to the Centre and states to take steps to conserve and increase the forest cover of the country.