J. Venkatesan

New Delhi: The Centre, in an application filed in the Supreme Court, has sought a direction to wind up the ‘Forest Bench,’ constituted in 1996 and headed by the Chief Justice of India.

The Bench, set up to prevent the depletion of forest wealth, has served its purpose. “The country has been witnessing a general uptrend in forest cover in the recent decades, which is remarkable. But for active government intervention, the forest resources could have declined very fast.”

The application is a sequel to differences which arose between the Centre and the court in December last over the composition of the Forest Advisory Committee as well as appointment of its members. The Centre questioned the court jurisdiction in interfering with the functions of the government.

Pointing out that various high-power committees set up by the court from time to time interfered with the executive functions of the Government, the application said the Bench should be wound up and all executive functions should be carried out by the Central and State Forest Departments

The Centre said the Bench had been relying heavily on the views of non-experts in forestry in spite of availability of a rich scientific pool, which could undertake rigorous studies and offer sound technical advice.

“Denigrated efforts”

Citing experience, the Centre said that often these committees had neglected, even purposely denigrated, the efforts of the State and Central Governments at conservation and development of forests, thereby misleading the court.

“If these weaknesses/fallacies are allowed to prevail, they might lead the forests to a situation of extreme risk, which is the opposite of the purpose for which the court intervened in the matter in the first instance.”

The application noted that over 1,700 applications had been filed before the Forest Bench and many were still being filed. The large number testified to the fact that separation of powers among different organs of the government and mutual respect were being eroded, the Centre said and sought disposal of the two petitions on which these applications were filed.