Batting for a “paperless environment” during the hearing in public interest litigation (PIL) that seeks to protect wetlands and forests, the Bombay High Court has said that the matter “will be taken up by e-filing”.
A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Gauri Godse, on August 25, while asking the state government and the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) to file their replies said: “All are put to notice. Advocates may use paper. We will not. As a first step, this Interim Application will be taken up by e-filing.”
The HC was hearing an application filed by NGO Vanashakti, in its PIL, seeking the implementation of various measures to identify, inventories and issue appropriate gazette notifications regarding wetlands in Maharashtra. It has sought relief for all wetlands, including man-made wetlands, paddy fields, coastal wetlands and wetlands of all sizes including those below 2.25 hectares.
The application has sought that the authorities update the existing documents with accurate digital maps demonstrating clear demarcation of wetland boundaries. It had prayed that all wetlands, upon demarcation, be notified by issuing appropriate gazette notifications.
Calling for reply affidavits from the government’s and MCZMA on these prayers, the HC said that these require “more studied directions taking into account various factors and perhaps evolving a long-term sustainable protocol”.
One of the prayers in the application is to restore all degraded wetlands which were earlier identified by Mangroves Cell and Grievances Redressal Committee.
The court said that it will look into this prayer at a later stage. However, it clarified that the court's deferring a hearing on that prayer doesn’t mean that the government ignores it.
“Our deferral of the prayer regarding degraded wetlands is not to be read as a direction to the state government not to restore degraded land. In fact, the government can and must proceed with this exercise without awaiting orders of the court,” the court noted.
“If these degraded wetlands have been identified, as the Application suggests they have been, then orders of the Court are not necessary before the State Government takes the necessary corrective action,” it further said.
The application has sought action against all officers concerned from various implementing authorities who failed to implement the HC orders. The government, through the Ministry of Revenue and Forest and the MCZMA, have been directed to e-file their affidavits in Court by September 30.
In the meantime, the registry will make the necessary arrangements to ensure that this interim application is completely digitised and is made available for access online in e-filing mode, added the court.
The HC has kept the PIL for hearing on October 10, 2022.