Centre pulled up by SC for sitting on Rs 77,000 crore funds for environment protection
New Delhi, July 20: The Supreme Court on Friday pulled up the Centre for "sitting" over funds of a whopping Rs 77,000 crore meant for protection of the environment and asked it to inform "for the sake of the country" as to where this money would be spent.
A bench comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta observed that if these funds were used in a proper manner, Delhi would not have been facing the problem of air pollution.
It also raked up the issue of the situation of rivers Ganga and Yamuna and said that schemes were not implemented properly by the authorities.
"We are talking about Rs 91,000 crore. It appears that only Rs 14,000 crore has been spent. We have no idea where these Rs 14,000 crore has gone. Maybe, the fund was used for good purposes but now Rs 77,000 crore is left. You are sitting on it," the bench told the Centre.
"It is meant for the sake of environment of the country and for benefit of the people. What are you doing on it? Why this is not being utilised," the bench asked.
The bench observed this after Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni, representing the Centre, referred to an affidavit filed by the government in which it said that Rs 91,000 crore was collected under various funds created on the court's orders for protection of the environment.
Nadkarni said out of these Rs 91,000 crore, Rs 14,000 have been spent so far by the states and the remaining funds were lying with states and not with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
"What about the people of this country? They also have the rights. States like Karnataka and Odisha have got a huge amount of money (from these funds)," the bench said.
"Tell us for the sake of the country as to how you are going to spend this money for the betterment of the country," the bench said.
Nadkarni told the court that several circulars have been issued to the states about these funds and the Centre has also instructed that this money should not be used for other purposes like foreign tours.
"There is no point is saying that you have issued circulars. Are these circulars being implemented properly," the court said.
When the Centre said that these funds were lying with the states, the bench shot back, "You ask them. States are not in a different country. They are part of India. You ask them what they propose to do with these funds."
Nadkarni told the court that audits were being done by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) and states also have their accountant generals for an audit of funds.
However, the bench referred to a separate matter related to funds meant for the welfare of building and construction workers across the country and said that as per CAG's report filed in the court, the money was used for the purchase of laptops and washing machines.
"These persons (construction labours) are illiterate and do not even have proper clothes to wear and the government says that we have purchased laptops and washing machines for them. Is it some kind of joke," the bench asked.
The apex court also observed that in a similar matter in Himachal Pradesh, funds meant for other purposes were used for purchasing I-Phones, TVs and cars.
An advocate, assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter, referred to an apex court judgement delivered in July 2011 and said that in that verdict, the court had asked the Centre to appoint a national regulator to monitor the utilisation of several funds.
However, the Centre said that too much of regulators might lead to more corruption in the country. The bench also observed that even after seven years of the verdict, national regulator has not been appointed in the country.
It said that the Centre has a responsibility to ensure that states spent these funds in a proper manner.
"We want to make it clear that this Rs 91,000 crore funds cannot be treated as revenue of the Union of India or the states," it said and asked the Centre to write to the states on this issue.
"We expect that chief secretaries of the states will respond immediately to the communication of the Union of India within a week or a maximum of 10 days," it said.