The Union Environment Ministry has set up a new permanent Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to deal with forest and environmental issues, replacing the existing CEC that was functioning under the supervision of the Supreme Court for the last two decades.
According to its website, The new CEC will have five members, including a chairperson, who will be nominated by the Environment Ministry for a term of three years. The members will be experts in the fields of forestry, wildlife, ecology, sociology, mining and law.
The new CEC will have the same powers and functions as the existing CEC, which was set up by the Supreme Court in 2002 to monitor and ensure compliance with its orders related to forest conservation and wildlife protection. The existing CEC was chaired by retired IAS officer PV Jayakrishnan and included retired Forest service officers Amarnatha Shetty, Dr Maharaj K Muthoo, SK Patnaik, and lawyer and naturalist Mahendra Vyas.
The Environment Ministry notified the new order on September 5 after the Supreme Court permitted the move “in the interest of all the stakeholders” on August 31. The Supreme Court said that it was handing over its green watchdog committee to the Environment Ministry in view of the “changed scenario” and the “evolution of law” in the field of environment.
The Supreme Court also said that it would retain its jurisdiction to entertain any application or petition relating to forest and environmental issues and that the new CEC would assist it in such matters as and when required.
New order states that the new CEC will
- Examine all cases involving diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes and make recommendations to the Environment Ministry for approval or rejection.
- Examine all cases involving violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and suggest remedial measures to the Environment Ministry.
- Examine all cases involving encroachment of forest land and illegal mining and recommend action to the Environment Ministry.
- Examine any other matter relating to forest and environmental issues as referred to it by the Environment Ministry or the Supreme Court.
The new order also states that the recommendations of the new CEC will be “ordinarily accepted” by the Environment Ministry unless there are “cogent reasons” to differ from them. In case of any difference of opinion, the Environment Ministry will record its reasons in writing and communicate them to the new CEC.
The new order has been welcomed by some experts who believe that it will streamline the process of forest clearance and reduce litigation. However, some activists and environmentalists have expressed concern over the lack of transparency and accountability in the new CEC. They have also pointed out that the new CEC does not have any representation from non-governmental actors such as civil society groups, tribal communities and independent experts.
Supreme Court favors younger experts
“This year in March, the Supreme Court expressed its belief that some experts in the relevant fields, who are relatively younger to the present incumbents [some members were over 75], can contribute in a more energetic and efficient manner for the effective functioning of the CEC” HT reported.
Critics have criticized the environment ministry's latest order for concentrating too much power in its own hands.
“Compared to the previous composition of the CEC as [constituted] by the Supreme Court, which included a member nominated by the [environment ministry] and two NGOs selected in consultation with the amicus curiae, the current notification introduces a significant transformation,” ecologist Debadityo Sinha said on X (formerly Twitter).
"He said that the chairman, member secretary, and all three expert members will now be civil servants appointed by the [environment ministry], in the revised structure."
“How can one anticipate the CEC to function independently or issue impartial judgments when its composition solely consists of civil servants appointed by the government?” he asked on X.
- Deltas Most Important Rivers Of Asia Are In Danger: Study
- Kochi Corporation And Railway Station Served Notices For Pollution Violations
- Glacier Retreat To Reduce Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra Flow: UN Chief