If the judiciary is known for going by the book of law, the first case to reach the “green bench” could concern the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway.
This is because conservationists, who protested against road passing through a protected area, and the habitat of the endangered Royal Bengal tiger, lost to the powerful politicians. Going by the Forest and Conservation Rules, 2006, construction of motor roads in a protected area is prohibited.
Bur there is a condition in the rule. It says that they can, if they have a written permit or authorisation. Parliament has approved it. There can be no higher sanction than that. But the green bench will allow a public interest litigation. And if environmentalists or activists, who tried to stop the road in the past, are not happy, they can file a case. Word is emerging that the road will be not be viable and uneconomical, with the Gyalpoizhing–Nganglam highway nearing completion.
However, the recent development in the judiciary is interesting and should be welcomed. Call it a development or reform in the judiciary; specialisation with the change in times is a must.
Protecting the environment is a development philosophy in the country. The highest law, the Constitution, spells out that a minimum of 60 percent of the country’s total land shall be under forest coverage for all times to come. This is to conserve the country’s natural resources and stop degradation of our fragile ecosystem.
With renewed emphasis on meeting our expenditure from our own revenue, reduce foreign debt and enhance export, there are many ideas explored. In the pursuit of development or such goals, we could come into conflict with conservation laws. This is especially true in a democracy, as political parties rush to meet pledges and promises. Any development leaves an impact on the environment, no matter how minimal it may be.
In the meantime, huge funds will start flowing in to save our protected areas and corridors.
It is in these conflicting times when the judiciary can intervene. Besides, it could also help clear projects that are mired in dispute, for instance, between miners and local communities. Although both parties could approach courts, even without a green bench, it is always as a last resort. In the meantime, a lot of time and money is wasted.
Today, miners are always looked upon as the bad guys, but we have cases where a few influential people in the community stop mining even when the prospects are sound, both economically and environmentally. Such a specialised bench could help resolve issues, quickly and professionally.
Beyond the environment bench, the judiciary, although come of age, should look at other areas the modern population is confronted with. It is time we have lawyers and drangpons specialised in cyber crime, and family and juvenile courts, for instance.
Such reforms will be an indication of the strength of the rule of law and, therefore, trust in the judiciary.