While noting that mere issuance of the notification in Hindi and English languages will not be sufficient, unless it is issued in the vernacular languages, the Madras High Court recently remarked that it is expected of the Central Government to respect the languages of all the States and comply with the procedures.
The Bench of Justice N. Kirubakaran and Justice B. Pugalendhi was hearing a writ petition challenging the gazette notification (dated 22.09.2020) issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India reducing the size of the Kanyakumari Wild Life Sanctuary from 0-10 kms to 0-3 kms.
The grievance of the Petitioner was that prior to the issuance of this gazette notification, a draft notification was issued by the Union Ministry on 21st February which invited objections, if any, within a period of 60 days, from the general public, however, no public hearing was conducted, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic situation and the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) announced by the Government, by imposing the nation-wide lock-down.
It was also submitted that the draft notification was not made available to the local people in the vernacular language, as per Rule 3 of the Notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, dated 19.01.2009 and the Official Memorandum of the Government of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests, dated 19.04.2010.
The Court, in its order, observed that as per the relevant rule & the Official Memorandum, the notice of public hearing as well as the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Report has to be advertised in one major National Daily and in one Regional Vernacular Daily in Official State Language, enabling the local people to understand the importance of the notification and to respond.
The Court said,
“Mere issuance of the notification in Hindi and English languages will not be sufficient to comply with the requirement of the aforesaid notification dated 19.01.2009 and the Official Memorandum dated 19.04.2010, unless it is issued in the vernacular languages.”
The Court also remarked,
“This Court expects the Central Government to issue all the notifications in the vernacular language of the States, which is the primary requirement, apart from Hindi and English languages. Otherwise, the very purpose of the notification will be lost. After all, languages are the medium of communication for people.”
The Court further observed that reduction of the size of the wildlife sanctuary from 0-10 kms to 0-3 kms would definitely affect the environment and the same was attempted, without any public hearing.
Importantly, the Court noted,
“Like animals, many foreign birds are migrating to various sanctuaries across the Country. Birds, animals and other creatures are having every right to live in the world. This universe is meant not only for humans, but also for every other creature. Since this is a serious issue affecting our environment, the matter has to be dealt with very seriously.”
Observing that the notification is not made known to the local people, as required, the Court said that “the local people are prevented from making any effective objection to the impugned notification.”
Lastly, the Court said,
“The present COVID-19 Virus has also made the issue very complex, as the people could not come out and give their objections. Therefore, there shall be an order of interim stay of the gazette notification issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, in CGDL-E-23092020-221903, dated 22.09.2020.”
The matter has been posted for further hearing on 14th December.
Case title – M. Satheesh v. The Secretary To Government Of India [WP(MD) No.17277 of 2020 and W.M.P.(MD)No.14467 of 2020]