Image used for representational purposes
Image used for representational purposes

Revised structure of the CEC problematic

Analysts view this as a clear dilution of the autonomy of the committee, which earlier functioned directly under the SC.

The Central Empowered Committee (CEC), created after a Supreme Court order in 2002, is now a permanent entity. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on September 5 issued a gazette notification on the committee’s reconstitution, which has now sparked widespread apprehensions. A statutory body with jurisdiction spanning the entire country, the CEC played a crucial role in monitoring the implementation of the apex court’s orders. It also closely watched conservation non-compliances vis-à-vis forests, the environment and wildlife. In the last two decades, it perused many important mining, infrastructure and conservation cases and reported to the SC, bringing essential reforms in the sector. However, it remained an ad hoc body.

On May 18, the apex court suggested it become a permanent institution. “We find that rather than CEC functioning as an ad hoc body, it functioning as a permanent body would be in the interest of all the stakeholders,” the SC stated in its August 18 order, allowing the MoEFCC to reconstitute the CEC. It is the reconstitution that has raised hackles. In its new avatar, the CEC will report to the MoEFCC as it will be under the ministry’s administrative control.

Analysts view this as a clear dilution of the autonomy of the committee, which earlier functioned directly under the SC. Besides, the CEC would now comprise a chairperson, a member secretary and three expert members, all of whom the MoEFCC will nominate. Similarly, in a departure from the committee’s original form, the reconstitution has dispensed with the provision of having two NGOs as members of the statutory body. But these are not the only issues that have invited criticism. The notification clearly states that if the suggestions or recommendations of the CEC are not acceptable to the Central or state governments, the final word would belong to the Centre only.

After the contentious Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023, the recalibrated CEC signals that the Centre will wield enormous authority in matters of compliance, which are crucial to many projects currently being implemented. It must not be forgotten that even governments overstep the lines in their pursuit of development, and keeping the statutory safeguards strong would be in the country’s greater interest.

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