The Supreme Court on Friday, 2 June, put on hold an interim order passed by the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court staying a press communique issued to invite suggestions/objections from the public to the proposed amendment to the Forest (Conservation) Act and further proceedings.
The high court order was issued because the notification of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament examining the 2023 amendment bill and the press notice inviting suggestions were in English and Hindi and not in any of the vernacular languages, including Tamil.
The JSC comprises members from both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
Tamil translation to be uploaded
A vacation bench of Justice Dipankar Data and Justice Pankaj Mithal stayed the high court order from 24 May, while recording the Centre’s statement that the Tamil translation of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill would be uploaded on the official website and after that people would be given seven days to give their suggestions/objections.
The Tamil version of the amendment bill will be uploaded by 5 June. The court also issued notice on Centre’s plea challenging the high court order.
Seeking the stay of the high court order, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Central government, told the vacation bench that both the Bill and the press communique were published in English and Hindi as both are the official languages of the Parliament.
However, he said there was a problem and they would solve it by publishing the Forest (Conversation) Amendment Bill in Tamil.
The solicitor general said that the high court could not have interfered with the proceedings of the JSC or the orders passed by it.
Also read: 7,000 tonnes of paddy missing in Tamil Nadu!
‘Cannot deny or exclude anyone’
While telling the vacation bench that the members of the JSC were in Jammu and Kashmir on Friday, for hearing suggestions from the people, Tushar Mehta said that as a practice the JSC invited people including experts from the concerned domain to give suggestions/objections and it need not go all over the country in pursuance to its exercise involving consultations.
He said that JSC would be going to the selected regions and that does not include Tamil Nadu.
Taking exception to the selective public hearing, Justice Dipankar Datta said, “Once you devise a procedure to grant hearing to one set of people, you can’t deny or exclude others.”
A Madurai bench of Madras High Court comprising Justice MS Ramesh and Justice PT Asha had on 24 May, ordered the interim stay of the press communique and all further proceedings.
The high court’s interim order had come on a public interest plea by an advocate G Theeran Thirumurugan stating that the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, and the press communique have been published in English and Hindi only and put to disadvantage people from making suggestions who are not familiar with the two languages.
He had sought the publication of both the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill and the press communique in Tamil and other vernacular languages.