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SC tells govt to appoint national forest policy regulator, rejects MoEF stand

New Delhi, Jan 6 (PTI): The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Union government to appoint a national regulator to oversee the implementation of forest policy, rejecting its contention that there was no need for such a body.

A three-judge forest bench headed by Justice A K Patnaik also ordered the government to file an affidavit on compliance of its order by March 31, 2014.

”We direct the Union of India to appoint Regulator with its offices in as many states as possible,” the bench, which also had justices S S Nijjar and F M I Kalifulla, said while rejecting the plea of Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) that there was no need to appoint a regulator to oversee the implementation of forest policy.

The bench made it clear that the MoEF would continue to control clearances under the Forest Act but the regulator will see the implementation of the Forest Policy of 1998.

The regulator would also deal with the environment impact assessment (EIA) for every project under the EIA notification of 2006.

While directing the appointment of the national regulator, the bench said it has become necessary as the present system for EIA under the Union government was deficient.

A senior advocate associated with the matter said this order has a far-reaching impact and it would be difficult from now onwards to ease the tough EIA scrutiny of projects and to allow their early clearance.

While asking the MoEF to file its affidavit on the compliance of its order by March 31, the bench posted the matter for hearing on April 7.

The apex court's order came on a plea of the MoEF seeking modification of the 2011 decision in which it had directed the central government to appoint a national regulator for “appraising projects, enforcing environmental conditions for approvals and to impose penalties on polluters”.

Last year, the Centre had informed the court that there was no need for setting up of a green regulator to oversee matters related to environmental clearances and had pleaded for modification of its order for setting up such a body.

The Centre, however, had said that an authority to monitor and facilitate implementation of the National Forest Policy, 1998, would be set up.