ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Accessing Justice

Courts should heed the convenience of litigants, not governments.

Goa’s active environmental groups have been a perpetual thorn in the flesh of successive state governments trying to push through “development” plans that pay no heed to the concepts of environmental sustainability. It was no ­surprise then to discover that the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar attem­pted to shift all environmental cases out of the jurisdiction of the western bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Pune to Delhi. Its central, and rather pathetic argument was that ­connectivity to Pune was poor and that distant Delhi was more convenient. What is surprising is that the Union Ministry of ­Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) acceded to the request with alacrity within a period of just two months without consulting any of the parties to be affected, namely the citizens of Goa who are the principal litigants in such cases. In an exemplary, and in many ways poetic judgment, the Panjim bench of the Bombay High Court threw out the MOEFCC’s notification calling it “arbitrary.”

The 47-page judgment of Justices Gautam Patel and Nutan Sardesai might be about a relatively simple matter but the ­ruling has raised issues that have wider implications for the way justice is delivered in this country. The important point that the judges made was that “access to justice” is a part of the fundamental right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. Given this, a step that places hurdles in the path to access justice is a denial of this right. They wrote: “At a time and in an age when Courts are considering branching out so that litigants are put to less inconvenience and less hardship, it strikes us as utterly extraordinary that any government should, in the guise of its own inconvenience or convenience, seek to shift a Tribunal several thousand kilometres away and then claim that this is for the greater public good. Indeed it is not.”

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Updated On : 15th Nov, 2017
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