A Supreme Court bench, comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, on July 20, 2018, observed that if the funds of Rs 77,000 crores, meant for the protection of the environment, 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 crores. It appears that only Rs 14,000 crores has been spent. We have no idea where these Rs 14,000 crores has gone. May be, the fund was used for good purposes but now Rs 77,000 crores is left. You are sitting on it,” the bench told the centre. “It is meant for the sake of the environment of the country and for the 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 ANS Nadkarni, representing the centre, referred to an affidavit filed by the government, in which it said that Rs 91,000 crores was collected under various funds created on the apex court’s orders, for protection of the environment. Nadkarni said out of these Rs 91,000 crores, Rs 14,000 crores had 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 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 apex 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 the audit of funds. However, the bench referred to a separate matter related to funds meant for welfare of building and construction workers across the country and said that as per the CAG’s report filed in the court, the money was used for 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 iPhones, 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 many regulators might lead to more corruption in the country.
The bench also observed that even after seven years of the verdict, a national regulator had not been appointed in the country. It said that the centre had 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.