Goa: HC strikes down Centre’s NGT order, says Goa a land of ‘ridiculously brilliant sunsets, abundant richness’

"It is a land of confluences, where diverse strands meet and co-exist; and, in a time of apparently incessant strife and discord, it is still a mostly liberal land."

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Published:October 11, 2017 5:17 pm
A sunset over river Mandovi in Goa. Express Photo by Nirmal Harindran.

The Goa bench of the Bombay High Court on Wednesday struck down a notification by the Centre that mandated relocating the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) jurisdiction for Goa-related cases from Pune to New Delhi. In August, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had issued a notification citing “lack of flight connectivity with Pune” and “absence of an office set up in the Maharashtra town” as reasons for it to be relocated.

In its order judgement today, the High Court bench comprising Justices GS Patel and ND Sardessai had words of praise for the state, its people, and its influence on the culture of India.

“It is a kind and gentle land, of a kind and gentle people. And it is also a land that, given its small size and small population, has had a wholly disproportionate influence on our art, culture, language, music, literature, architecture, history, design and more (even food, for many of what we consider our staples first came from here). Its greatest asset is one: its environment and its ecology — its rivers and riverbanks, its beaches, its lakes and clear streams, its dense forests, its low hills and fertile fields, its boulders and even trees shrouded with moss and vines and lichen in the rains, its ridiculously brilliant sunsets,” part of the order read.

The Union Ministry’s decision came under heavy criticism by environmentalists and activists in Goa as well as political parties in the Opposition. In September, the High Court took up the matter suo moto.

Here’s what the Goa bench of the Bombay HC said in its order (Para 46 onwards):

“By our order of 21st August 2017, we directed that no files should be transferred from the Western Region Bench to New Delhi. In view of our judgment, the Western Region Bench will, therefore, now be entitled to proceed with the hearings of cases filed before it.

Above all, there is one overarching concern. This is an extraordinary state, in more ways than one, a place where, perhaps more than anywhere else, sky, sea and earth meet. From horizon to horizon, it is a land of abundant richness. It is a land of confluences, where diverse strands meet and co-exist; and, in a time of apparently incessant strife and discord, it is still a mostly liberal land. It is a kind and gentle land, of a kind and gentle people. And it
is also a land that, given its small size and small population, has had a wholly disproportionate influence on our art, culture, language, music, literature, architecture, history, design and more (even food, for many of what we consider our staples first came from here). Its greatest asset is one: its environment and its ecology — its rivers and riverbanks, its beaches, its lakes and clear streams, its dense forests, its low hills and fertile fields, its boulders and even trees shrouded with moss and vines and lichen in the rains, its ridiculously brilliant sunsets.

One needs only to turn off an arterial road to either east or west to see all this first-hand, and all of it within but a few minutes. If the NGT in Pune has so very many cases from Goa, it is not because — or not just because — the people of Goa are litigious; if true, that may only speak to their continued faith in the legal system and its processes. It is because they perceive that there is something of value here to protect.

Few are frivolous causes; in the past few weeks, we saw none. Many, and perhaps most, are of very serious concern, raising vital questions of both public law and environmental governance. To be sure, the government has before it a delicate balancing task of safe-guarding the environment and providing for development. What is important, however, is that a cause must be brought for an issue to be addressed. In our experience, one that none can deny, we have seen a very large number of worthy causes. Our duty, and that of every government too, must be to ensure that these attempts to protect the environment can be brought to a forum that is close at hand, where environmental issues can be addressed quickly, without having to travel inordinate distances, and at a cost that the poorest in the land, not just the well-heeled, can afford. These are, after all, struggles for a better tomorrow. This or that particular cause may be lost. But no cause should be allowed to be lost for want of trying.

For that, we have those who petition us. Equally certainly, no cause should be allowed to be lost for want of a court. That is up to us, and to the government. For this is something none can deny: this is a land truly worth fighting for.

We say this because, though we cannot command it, we can most emphatically commend it: that both the State Government and the MOEF must immediately take up with all seriousness the proposal to establish a Circuit Bench in Goa.

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