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Let the Games go on
By Ramaswamy R. Iyer

The Supreme Court's judgment upholding the location of the Commonwealth Games and rejecting the objections does not come as a surprise. What surprises is the form that the judgment has taken.

The high court took a very long time over the PIL on this issue, and must take a part of the blame for making a decision difficult in the end. However, after prolonged hearings during which all the relevant points were argued and a good deal of documentation submitted, the high court, instead of pronouncing a final judgment, ordered the establishment of an expert committee to examine the proposed constructions, for impact on river ecology and compliance with the conditions of environmental clearance. The DDA and a cluster of government departments and ministries appealed to the Supreme Court against that order.

What were the options before the Supreme Court? It could have upheld the high court's order; or it could have allowed the expert committee to be set up, but ordered that this should not affect the work on the Games, and that remedial measures, if any, recommended by the committee should be implemented after the Games; or it could have simply set aside the order for the establishment of a committee. In the last case, the high court would have had to proceed without the report of a committee and pronounce final judgment. Of course, an appeal could then have been made to the Supreme Court against the (putative) final judgment of the high court.

What the Supreme Court actually did was to go beyond the question of a committee and into the merits of the matter, set aside the high court judgment in toto, and give a clearance for the construction work on the site for the Commonwealth Games to proceed. Why did it do this? One presumes that the governing consideration was the urgency of the matter. If that were the case, the Supreme Court could have said "This matter has become very urgent and will brook no further delay. The time for argument is over. We are therefore bringing finality to the case by rejecting objections and allowing construction to proceed".

However, that is not what the learned judges have done. They have said that the area in question is not riverbed or floodplain. That question had been gone into at great and learned length by both the judges (Justice Sikri and Justice Rekha Sharma) in the high court judgment. Their treatment of the subject was persuasive. However, the Supreme Court brushes it aside and comes to its own conclusion. The expert opinion it relies on is that of government bodies which cannot be expected to be objective and which tend to provide convenient opinions to the powers that be.

The basis for saying that the area is not in the floodplain of the Yamuna is that it now stands protected by the embankment built to protect the Akshardham temple complex. This was the argument in the high court, and it had been dismissed as fallacious. The high court had questioned the manner in which NEERI and the ministry of environment and forests had changed their positions. It is that disingenuous and discredited argument that the Supreme Court has accepted as an expert finding.

It is a curious argument. If areas protected by embankments technically cease to be floodplains, it is possible to narrow the floodplains progressively by building embankments closer and closer to the river. The culmination of this process would be two walls very close to the river on either side; we can then say that the river has no floodplain. Did the Supreme Court consider this reductio ad absurdum?

Besides, the important point is not whether the area in question is riverbed or floodplain or neither. Though the high court had discussed the riverbed/floodplain issues, its order does not talk about these. It refers only to the impact that the proposed constructions will have on the ecology of the river. It is to determine this that it orders the setting up of an expert committee. The Supreme Court's ex cathedra pronouncement that the area is not riverbed or floodplain commits two errors: it sets aside the high court's order on the basis of a wrong understanding of the order; and it leaves the crucial question of impact unanswered.

What the judgment reveals is a certain way of thinking prevalent not merely in government but in society in general, and now evidently in the judiciary as well. The Commonwealth games are important; the Yamuna is not. The environment minister can take the Yamuna off his agenda.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Source: Indian Express

Ramaswamy R. Iyer

The writer is a former civil servant.

Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

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Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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