In the last few weeks, while the Supreme Court has been facing criticism for its handling of the migrants issue, two eminent lawyers – one a former attorney general and the other a former solicitor general – came out strongly against the Supreme Court for a completely different reason: they blamed the court for the current economic slowdown.
In a recent lecture, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said that “in its zeal to uphold the environment, its zeal to correct government orders and inactions, the Supreme Court dealt a serious blow to the economy of the nation.” He cited the example of cancellation of coal mines across the country: “Lakhs and crores of foreign investments, lakhs and crores of equipment, infrastructure and lakhs of jobs were thrown overboard when the court set aside and cancelled all the allocation of coal blocks and coal mines, because the government did not follow the law correctly.”
In an interview to Indira Jaisingh a few months back, Harish Salve expressed similar sentiments, saying the Supreme Court “cancelled coal mines by one stroke of the pen, without examining the merits of every case. Much genuine foreign investment in the coal industry went flat. A few million people are without jobs in India.”
Following this line of thinking, in a recent article, Salve pointed out that the “coal allocation judgment and the Goa mining judgment have generously contributed to bringing down the GDP”. He continued: “Whether it be privatisation or nuclear power generation, creation of new highways, new ports or new airports – the court is asked to step in and prevent the elected executive from implementing its policies.”
Given these statements have come from individuals who have occupied the highest legal offices in India, it is important to present the ‘other side’ of the picture and deal with their principal contentions.
‘Millions of people without jobs’
Salve and Rohatgi emphasise job losses due to the apex court’s orders. First, both of them are general statements – ‘millions’ and ‘lakhs’ of jobs. No actual number is given. There is no doubt that jobs have been lost due to restrictions imposed. But then should the courts be silent spectators when companies mined in violation of laws? The state of Goa captured only 0.3% of the mineral depletion – Rs 161 crore of the Rs 48,199 crore, mostly as royalty. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that all mining from November 2007 was illegal in Goa.
With respect to iron ore mining in Karnataka: the Lokayukta report concluded that mining activities were undertaken in violation of the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act 1957, Forest Conservation Act 1980, Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, Foreign Exchange Management Act 2006 and the Panchayati Raj Act. And like Goa, while mining companies earned Rs 4,000-Rs 5,000 per tonne of iron ore, the state received Rs 16 as royalty.
Even illegal activities provide employment; this is one…
Read More: No, the Supreme Court Didn’t Cause the Economic Slowdown