The Supreme Court Friday lifted the stay imposed by the Madras High Court on a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) press release inviting suggestions and objections from the public and other stakeholders on the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 [Union of India vs Theeran Thirumurugan and ors].
A vacation bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and Pankaj Mithal issued notice on the appeal moved by the Central government and listed the matter for further hearing in the first week of July.
The top court took note of Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta's assurance that the Bill would be published in Tamil by June 5, Monday.
One of the grievances raised by the petitioner before the High Court was that the public notice was published only in English and Hindi and not in Tamil.
The release by the JPC had sought objections to the Bill within 15 days, to be sent only in English or Hindi.
The Madurai Bench of the High Court had noted in its order dated May 24 that the Bill proposes many crucial amendments to the 1980 Forest (Conservation) Act, which would would have wider implications.
"While the endeavour of the respondents in calling for suggestions from the public is laudable, the same could rendered futile if the notification seeking for suggestions does not reach to such sections of the public, who are not familiar with either the English or the Hindi languages. Thus if the Amendment Bill or the Press Communique are not made available in the vernacular languages other than English and Hindi, the object behind calling for suggestions from the public could be defeated," a bench of Justices MS Ramesh and PT Asha had noted.
The High Court had, therefore, stayed the press communique as well as further proceedings (including public hearings) by the JPC till June 16.
"Though it is not our desire to stall an important Amendment Bill, we are constrained to put it on hold for some time, for the Government to explore the possibilities of publishing translated copies of the Amendment Bill as well as Press Communique in all the vernacular languages of the country."
During hearing before the Supreme Court today, the SG told the Bench that as per Article 212, the High Court could not have stayed JPC proceedings in such matters.
The said Article states that courts are not to inquire into proceedings of the legislature.
The top court, however, noted that the process of inviting and hearing of objections was important.
After being informed that the public hearings would not be conducted in all States, Justice Datta asked the SG,
"Where does petitioner after reading the bill in Tamil file his objections if the (public) hearings conclude by then?"
The bench said that filing of the objections would be meaningless if they are not heard.
"Can you invite only one class and not the others?" Justice Datta asked the SG after noting that a public hearing had commenced in Jammu and Kashmir, and that the JPC would not be going to Tamil Nadu.
The SG said that the JPC has taken all factors into consideration while deciding the place for its hearings.
The apex court then proceeded to stay the High Court order.
[Follow our live-coverage of the hearing]