NEW DELHI—The Karnataka High Court has cautioned the Narendra Modi government’s environment ministry that, if it does not widely publicise the controversial draft law for environment clearance in local languages and give people enough time to send their feedback, it will consider staying the proposed law.
“We make it very clear that if we are not satisfied that adequate publicity is given in local languages and the time is not extended, we will consider the interim prayer for staying the notification,” says the order given by a two judge bench of the Karnataka High Court comprising Chief Justice Abhay Sreeniwas Oka and Justice M Nagaprasanna late last week.
The court gave this order in response to a petition filed by an environment non-profit United Conservation Movement seeking an extension of time for feedback about the controversial proposed law till 31 December 2020 and not letting it become law till then. The union environment ministry will give its official reply on Thursday, July 23.
Advocate Prince Isac, the lawyer who argued this matter in the Karnataka High Court for the environment group, told HuffPost India that this means the court is considering staying the draft law till such time the government conducts adequate public consultation, not staying its provisions or ruling on their legality.
“We make it very clear that if we are not satisfied that adequate publicity is given in local languages and the time is not extended, we will consider the interim prayer for staying the notification”
The proposed law, officially called the draft environment impact assessment notification 2020, was published in the government’s gazette for publication while the coronavirus lockdown was in force in April. HuffPost India has published detailed reports about the controversial aspects of the proposed law here and here.
The draft law has courted controversy especially since it was revealed that, despite receiving negative public feedback for releasing it for public consultation during the coronavirus lockdown, the environment minister Prakash Javadekar overruled his own officers and decided to give a lesser number of days for the public to give feedback about the specific provisions of the draft.
Subsequently, the Delhi High Court extended the time limit for public consultation till August 11. It also directed that, for a meaningful and broad based public consultation to happen, the draft law ought to be translated into 22 languages mentioned in the eight schedule of the Indian constitution.
The petition filed in Karnataka HC subsequently noted that adequate consultation about the proposed law has not been done since it was released during the coronavirus lockdown and sought time till December 2020. During hearings, the lawyer for the petitioner also pointed out that translations of the draft law into 22 languages of the eight schedule of the Indian constitution have not been done despite the Delhi HC order.
Taking this into consideration, the two judge bench led by the Karnataka HC Chief Justice wrote in its order dated 16 July, “Prima facie, we are of the view that the respondent - Central Government must take immediate steps to ensure that wide publicity to the notification dated 23rd March 2020 is given by publishing the same in official languages of all the States. If the publicity is to be given hereafter, hardly few days time will be available to the citizens to submit objections.”
Crucially, it then added, “Therefore, the Central Government will have to consider for extending time for submitting objections.(sic)”
In subsequent paras, the two page order notes the court cautioning the union environment ministry that it will consider staying the draft law till it is translated into local languages and people are given adequate time to respond.
Advocate Isac, quoted earlier in this report, said, “Court was mentioning that on our application for interim relief. We have sought an interim relief that, till they grant sufficient time to the public for giving suggestions and objections, and this notification being translated into all languages which are accepted by the constitution, till then let this not become a law. The court orally said that, as the interim prayer is concerned, we will consider giving an order.”
This order was given by the court in a week when it was revealed that the Narendra Modi government controlled National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) had blocked three websites campaigning against the draft law. Campaigning by one of them, documents accessed by HuffPost India under the RTI act show, was on the radar of the environment ministry at least since early April.