Lack of scientific certainty is no ground to imperil the environment: Supreme Court [Read Judgment]

The Supreme Court said that it cannot be expected to not act in an environmental violation case just because it does not have complete details of violation.
Lack of scientific certainty is no ground to imperil the environment: Supreme Court [Read Judgment]
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Lack of scientific certainty is no ground to imperil the environment, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday upholding an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directing demolition of a Hotel-cum-Restaurant in a bus-stand complex at McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh.

A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra noted that environmental rule of law calls upon judges to "marshal the knowledge emerging from the record, limited though it may sometimes be, to respond in a stern and decisive fashion to violations of environmental law."

"We cannot be stupefied into inaction by not having access to complete details about the manner in which an environmental law violation has occurred or its full implications. Instead, the framework, acknowledging the imperfect world that we inhabit, provides a roadmap to deal with environmental law violations, an absence of clear evidence of consequences notwithstanding," the Court said.

It noted that permission which was granted by Ministry of Environment and Forest was only for construction of a ‘parking place’ at McLeod Ganj.

"At no point was any permission granted for the construction of a hotel or commercial structure. NGT’s finding on this count commends acceptance," the judgment said.

The Supreme Court, therefore, dismissed the appeal filed by Himachal Pradesh Bus Stand Management and Development Authority (Authority/ Appellant) and directed that the process of demolishing the Hotel-cum Restaurant structure be commenced within two weeks.

The NGT had ruled that the bus stand complex "seriously disturbs the ecology of the area" as it violated provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act.

It had, therefore, directed the Authority to pay compensation to the tune of Rs. 15 lakh in terms of Sections 15 and 17 of the NGT Act. The State of Himachal Pradesh and its Department of Tourism was directed to pay a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh each.

The NGT had also ordered an enquiry against the officers of the Authority.

The Supreme Court said that it cannot be expected to not act in an environmental violation case just because it does not have complete details of violation.

The top court observed that parties have engaged in construction without complying with the plans drawn by the appellant’s third-party consultants, which were agreed to by them in the Request for Proposal (RFP).

The Court noted that the construction proceeded even when the Town and Country Planning Department tried to halt it, refusing to approve its plans.

"Even the post facto refusal by the MOEF for changing the nature of the diverted forest land was not enough to stop the parties. Ultimately, when they were forced to halt the construction by the CEC, they proceeded with it under the guise of an order of this Court which permitted only legal construction," the Court said.

These circumstances, the Court concluded, highlighted conduct by the appellants not only oblivious of the environmental consequences but also an "active disdain for them in favour of commercial benefits."

It further held that the construction of the bus stand cannot receive the endorsement of the Supreme Court.

"Whatever else the environmental rule of law may mean, it surely means that construction of this sort cannot receive our endorsement, no matter what its economic benefits may be. A lack of scientific certainty is no ground to imperil the environment," the Court made it clear.

The Court, therefore, held that construction of the Hotel-cum-Restaurant structure in the bus-stand complex was illegal and constituted a brazen violation of law.

[Read judgment]

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