On August 13th, 2020, the Apex Court permitted the Centre to withdraw its SLP filed before the Court against impugned Delhi High Court order to file a review petition instead. Consequently, it stayed the contempt proceedings against the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC) for failing to comply with the directions of the Delhi High Court to publish the draft EIA 2020 in 22 languages.
The Central Government issued a draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification dated March 23rd, 2020. It had substantive provisions in addition to EIA Notification of 2006. It imposed restrictions on modernization, expansion, and establishment of several industries and capacity addition projects, in any part of India. The said draft was published on April 11th, 2020 in the Gazette of India. However, this was exclusively in English and Hindi.
A petition filed in Delhi High Court by an environmentalist Vikrant Tongad sought an extension of time to respond to the said draft notification till September. Further, he also pointed out that since it proposed to have an effect all over India and to several industries and comments have been elicited from all over the country, it warrants its publication in multiple languages for public consultation and inviting objections.
On June 30th, 2020, a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan passed an Order which directed the Central Government to publish the draft EIA notification, 2020 in all 22 official languages under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India within 10 days. The Court further extended the deadline for raising objections until August 11th, 2020.
“Looking to the far-reaching consequences of the public consultation process for which the draft notification has been published, we are of the view that it would be in aid of effective dissemination of the proposed notification if arrangements are made for its translation into other languages as well, at least those mentioned in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution,” the bench said.
Centre’s Plea in the Apex Court
The Delhi High Court initiated the contempt of court proceedings against the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC) for failing to comply with the order. A Petition for Special Leave to Appeal was also filed on behalf of the Union of India against the impugned final judgement and order dated June 30th, 2020.
Mr Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India, appeared on behalf of the Union of India. He argued that the rules state that the publication is to be in English and Hindi only whereas the public responses can be in any language.
The Bench agreed with the submission but raised the question as to why the issue was not raised in the High Court itself. The Petitioner sought permission to withdraw the Special Leave Petition. Further, it sought liberty to file a review petition before the High Court.
A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice V. Ramasubramanian granted permission for the same and stayed the Contempt Petition till the disposal of the Review Petition in the Delhi High Court.
Moreover, it permitted the Centre to approach the Apex Court to challenge the main order and the Order of the Review Petition in the event of failure before the High Court of Delhi.
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