Purposive interpretation of law to protect environment

The top court said it is only when the interpretation of law keeps pace with the object of the legislature that the grave evils which pose a danger to our natural environment can be suppressed. DH file photo

The Supreme Court has emphasised upon making a purposive interpretation of the law which has been passed as an effective tool to protect environment, saying it continued to face perils of alarming depletion due to avarice of the mankind.

“Statutory interpretation must remain eternally vigilant to the daily assaults on the environment,” a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta said.

The top court said it is only when the interpretation of law keeps pace with the object of the legislature that the grave evils which pose a danger to our natural environment can be suppressed.

“The avarice of humankind through the ages has resulted in an alarming depletion of the natural environment. The consequences of climate change are bearing down on every day of our existence. Statutory interpretation must remain eternally vigilant to the daily assaults on the environment,” the bench said.

The top court interpreted the Madhya Pradesh amendment into the Indian Forest Act to allow the state's appeal against the high court's order directing for interim release of a tractor and trolley, seized for allegedly carrying sand illegally excavated from a restricted area of Dalijeet Pura Ghat of Chambal river at the National Sanctuary.

“It has sought to overcome that deficiency by imposing stringent deterrents against activities which threaten the pristine existence of forests in Madhya Pradesh,” the court said.

The amendment made abundantly clear that the direction issued by the high court was contrary to law. The jurisdiction was not available to the magistrate, once the authorised officer initiated confiscation proceedings, it said.

The state government said that the high court has passed similar orders in other cases interpreting the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act to hold that the magistrate has power to order release of seized vehicles under the Criminal Procedure Code. It contended the high court disregarded the state amendments brought in into Indian Forest Act. It also cited the provision which provided a comprehensive scheme and it was not open to the magistrate to direct interim release of a vehicle.

“Protection of forests against depredation is a constitutionally mandated goal exemplified by Article 48A of the directive principles and the fundamental duty of every citizen incorporated in Article 51A(g). By isolating the confiscation of forest produce and the instruments utilised for the commission of an offence from criminal trials, the legislature intended to ensure that confiscation is an effective deterrent. The absence of effective deterrence was considered by the legislature to be a deficiency in the legal regime,” it added.

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