The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre whether it was planning a dedicated Indian Environment Service in the national bureaucratic set-up, as recommended by a committee headed by former Cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian in 2014.
Issuing notice on a petition filed by a lawyer Samar Vijay Singh, a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh said: “A prayer has been made in the petition for creation of an independent Indian Environment Service at the all-India level. The prayer arises from the recommendation of TSR Subramanian Committee. Prima facie it is doubtful if a mandamus (judicial command) can be issued but an enquiry can be made whether the government proposes to act as per the recommendation of the committee.”
The petition was argued by senior advocate K Sultan Singh, who pointed out that matters of environment require some level of sensitivity and domain knowledge. “It has been noticed that while commissioning projects at the field level, matters of environment have not been adequate attention,” Singh said.
The bench was initially not inclined to entertain the petition. “Should we now take over the governance?” it said when the petitioner opened arguments.But the top court passed the order issuing notices after brief consultation on going through the report and its recommendations.
The high-level committee was constituted in August 2014under the chairmanship of Subramanian by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF & CC) to review environmental laws in the country, and to bring them in line with the current requirements. The report, submitted on November 18, 2014, recorded the fact that India had a strong environmental policy and legislative framework but weak implementation has resulted in environmental governance being criticised by conservation experts and the judiciary.
As a step for the future, the committee said, “An Indian Environment Service may be created, as an all-India Service, based on qualifications and other details prescribed by MoEF&CC/ DoPT/ UPSC.” The committee also proposed that necessary institutional framework be created for this purpose.
Officers dealing with environment clearances and policies currently come from the all India civil services conducted by the UPSC.
The report said, “Current approval systems and monitoring mechanism function in a quasiamateurish manner, leading to sub-optimal management of environmental issues. It is now proposed that a new Indian Environment Service be created, as an All India Service, which will act as an expert group to man positions in this field in the public and quasi-governmental sectors over the next decades.”
A parliament standing committee, however, rejected the report as it noted that the three-month period given to the HLC for reviewing six environmental laws was “too short”, and recommended a new committee be constituted.
Drawing strength from the Subramanian report, the petition said, “Looking at the current administrative set-up, it can be inferred that the government servants might not be able to spare special time for environmental causes…Seeing the scientific and technical nature of the environment sector, it can be assumed that officers with a background in environmental science can come up with better solutions for numerous issues.”
The petition also sought directions from the court to set up an Indian Environmental Service Academy in order to train officers for enforcing environment laws.