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In The Event Of A Conflict, Environmental Protection Would Take Precedence Over Economical Interests: Castlerock To Kulem Railway Line’s Approval Revoked By The Supreme Court

Mridul Gupta ,
  13 May 2022       Share Bookmark

Court :
The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
I.A. No. 61370 of 2021 [Report No. 06 0f 2021]

CAUSE TITLE:
T N Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union Of India & Ors

DATE OF ORDER:
09 May 2022

JUDGE(S):
The Hon’ble Mr. Justice L Nageswara Rao
The Hon’ble Mr. Justice B R Gavai
The Hon’ble Mr. Justice Aniruddha Bose

PARTIES:
Petitioner(s): T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad
Respondent(s): Union Of India&Ors.

SUBJECT

In Interlocutory Application and other connected I.A.s the Supreme Court directed the National Board for Wildlife (‘NBWL’) to furnish a copy of the orders passed by it relating to matters of National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. If the Central Empowered Committee ('CEC') was not happy with the decision of the NBWL Standing Committee, they were given the option of submitting an appropriate application with the Court.

OVERVIEW

  • Standing Committee of NBWL recommended the proposal for wildlife clearance for the doubling of the existing railway line from Castlerock (Karnataka) to Kulem (Goa).
  • The Goa Foundation filed an application before the CEC (Central Empowered Committee) stating that the recommendation of the Standing Committee of NBWL violated the order passed by the Supreme Court.
  • After examining the matter in detail, CEC recommended revocation of the permission granted by the Standing Committee for NBWL.
  • The Standing Committee of NBWL recommended the proposal made by RVNL (Rail Vikas Nigam Limited) for doubling the existing railway line from Castlerock to Kulem, subject to the condition that they would adhere to all of the Chief Wildlife Warden's conditions and carry out the approved animal transit plan.
  • The objections raised by Goa Foundation were that the project involvedthe diversion of significant area of forest land and sanctuary land and would entail further destruction of the Sanctuary/National Park and wildlife, by felling a large number of trees.
  • RVNL stated before the CEC that the objections raised by Goa Foundation were without merit. According to RVNL, doubling of railway line would be a game-changer in economic development.
  • After examining the information furnished by the RVNL, CEC was of the opinion that the additional line was not likely to add either to the turnaround time of the train or loco or to the speed of the train, CEC did not recommend the doubling of the railway line.
  • CEC recommended to the Court that the permission granted by the Standing Committee of the NBWL should be revoked.

ISSUE RAISED

Whether the doubling of the railway line would outweigh the environmental concerns raised by the Goa Foundation which found favour with the CEC report?

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE PETITIONER

  • The Counsel for CEC supported the report of the CEC and recommended the revocation of permission granted by NBWL as preservation of biodiversity and conservation of the eco-system of the western ghats exceeds the need for doubling the railway line.
  • According to the learned counsel for the Goa Foundation, the approval of NTCA is mandatory under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It was submitted that Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary was an important tiger corridor which needs to be protected. Goa Foundation apprehended that the doubling of railway line would increase the dangers of severe environmental degradation owing to massive cutting of trees which would then have an adverse impact on the climate and temperature of the protected area apart from habitat discontinuities, impact on species etc. The further complaint of Goa Foundation was that the advice of Wildlife Institute of India was not obtained for Goa portion for doubling of railway line. Goa Foundation recommended acceptance of the CEC report and revoke the permission granted by the NBWL for doubling the railway line between Castlerock and Kulem.

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENTS

  • On behalf of RVNL, the project proponent, it was submitted all statutory clearances were obtained before undertaking the doubling of the railways line. It was further stated that the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary had not been notified as a Tiger Reserve under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and therefore there was no need to approach NTCA seeking a report for the Goa part of the Project. The project proponent attempted to justify the project by contending that State-of-the-Art wildlife mitigation measures were adopted by the project proponent, implementation of which was monitored by the experts. RVNL also brought to the notice of this Court a Comprehensive Biodiversity and environment assessment undertaken by the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru for Castlerock and Kulem stretch. It assured the Court that Rail over-bridges and Road under-bridges would be constructed for crossing of animals. It was further informed that there had not been a single instance of death of any major animal, including tiger, on the railway track. An assurance was given to this Court that there would be no additional disturbance to the forest area as no separate pathway would be constructed in the forest area for transportation of goods and machinery which would be carried out in the most ecologically efficient manner. Only such of those trees which were essential would be felled and compensatory afforestation would be taken up.

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS

  • 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 as held in T.N. GodavarmanThirumulpad v. Union of India [(2008) 2 SCC 222]. 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 ecological and environmental preservation should not obstruct economic and other development. Both development and environmental protection must go hand in hand; in other words, development should not come at the expense of the environment, and vice versa; rather, development should take place while taking appropriate precautions and ensuring environmental protection as held in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India [(1996) 5 SCC 281].
  • In Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India [(1996) 5 SCC 647], the Supreme Court held that the ‘Precautionary Principle’ was an essential feature of the principle of ‘Sustainable Development’. The principle of precaution anticipates environmental harm and takes steps to prevent it or pick the least environmentally damaging action.
  • A situation might arise where there might be irreparable damage to the environment after an activity is allowed to go ahead and if it is stopped, there might be irreparable damage to economic interest as held in M.C Mehta v. Union of India [(2004) 12 SCC 118]. The Court held that in case of a doubt, protection of environment would have precedence over the economic interest. Further, the Court emphasised that it was not always necessary that there should be direct evidence of harm to the environment.
  • Doubling of the railway line between Castlerock to Kulem was a part of the critical project. The Court was of the view that the CEC was right in its conclusion that the proposal for the doubling of the railway line between Castlerock to Kulem by NBWL should be revoked. The Ministry of Railways or RVNL failed to provide any substantial basis for the requirement of doubling the railway line by addressing the impact which it would had on the habitat and the damage that it would cause to the environment. The Standing Committee of NBWL ought to had sought for a report from NTCA on the Goa part of the project before granting approval for the doubling of the railway line between Castlerock to Kulem keeping in mind of the fact that it is an important tiger corridor where tigers killing were reported.
  • RVNL had also proposed to construct under-passes/overbridges at identified locations of track crossings by wild animals to ensure safe crossings of tracks by animals. CEC in its report submitted that it noticed that it was not possible to construct any sort of under-pass. Therefore, the mitigation measure proposed to be undertaken by RVNL was not clear. The report prepared by Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, lacked in critical assessment, particularly of project impacts.

CONCLUSION

  • The Court upheld the conclusion of the CEC and revoked the approval granted by the Standing Committee of NBWL for doubling the railway line between Castlerock to Kulem.
  • Therefore, the Interlocutory Applications were disposed of.

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