The Supreme Court today wanted to know from the Centre how a "huge amount" of around Rs 75,000 crore, lying in various funds created on apex court's orders for protection of the environment, was being utilised, saying this fund was good enough to bring about a change.
The court said the amount involved was "not small" and directed the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) to provide the status of these funds with a specific answer whether the money was being utilised for environment protection, rehabilitation and welfare of citizens.
The top court took the issue on its own and asked the apex court registry to register the matter in this regard under the 'suo motu' category.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice M B Lokur said there were around 10 to 12 funds which have been created after the apex court orders on environmental matters and as per information placed before it, the amount lying in them was in the range of Rs 70,000-75,000 crore.
"What are you doing? So many funds have been created under the orders of this court. Which are these funds and what is the amount lying in these funds," the bench, which also comprised Justices Kurian Joseph and Deepak Gupta, asked the MoEF.
Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni, appearing for the MoEF, told the bench that the ministry would update the court about it.
He said a meeting was scheduled between the MoEF and Ministry of Finance with regard to Compensatory Afforestation Funds Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).
To this, the bench asked, "What do you propose to do with this money?"
"We are not talking about a small amount. We are talking about Rs 70,000 crore. If this amount is used for environment protection, it will bring a change," the bench said.
It also asked about the status of fund collected under Environment Compensation Charge (ECC), which the apex court had earlier imposed on commercial vehicles entering Delhi in addition to the toll tax.
"We will register a suo motu (on its own) application regarding utilisation of these funds. We would like the MoEF to tell us how much money is lying in these funds because it appears that the money lying in this is in the range of Rs 70,000 crore. We want to know about it," the bench said and directed the apex court registry to register a suo motu plea.
It referred to the information provided by an advocate, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter, and said that total amount lying in these funds was "stated to be in the range of Rs 70,000 to Rs 75,000 crore approximetaly".
"Undoubtedly, this is a huge amount which can be used for benefit of environmental protection and rehabilitation," it said.
"We accordingly direct the MoEF to give us the status of various funds that have been created all over the country and amount lying in each of these funds as on March 31, 2018," the court said and asked the amicus to independently carry out his exercise in this regard.
It also asked the MoEF to apprise it about any proposal which has been framed for utilisation of these funds and for its monitoring.
The court, which fixed the matter for hearing in the first week of April, was hearing a matter which has raised various issues related to environment including illegal mining in several states.
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