Attorney general KK Venugopal on Wednesday said the Supreme Court’s orders in the airwaves and coal mine allocation cases have affected the telecom, mining and coal sectors, and urged it to consider the budgetary impact of actions initiated on public interest litigations.
On SC’s decision to ban liquor vends alongside national highways, the attorney general said: “Thousands of people lost their jobs.” He also spoke of the 2G and the coal case judgements, in which the court had en masse cancelled licences citing “illegalities”.
“FDI was hit by the cancellation of licences. Coal prices have shot up and there is a shortage of coal,” the central government’s senior-most law officer told a bench led by justice Madan B Lokur, when the court demanded that the government act to unclog the overcrowded jails — something that would require regular audits of jails and entails extra budgetary allocation.
On Tuesday, justice Lokur, who heads the court’s social justice bench, had expressed concern over the high incidence of rapes in the country and demanded government accountability on this score.
India is a developing country, the’ AG said. “Budgetary allotments for one sector come at the expense of another. Two hundred million people are still below the hunger line. The government can’t be asked to look at other sectors,” he said.
It’s time for the court to examine the budgetary impact of PILs, he said.
In response, justice Lokur sought to know why the government hadn’t used over Rs 1,50,000 crore collected by the court so far under different heads.
“These are lying unutilised,” he said. These were collected by the court by way of CAMPA, cess for construction workers and fines for illegal mining in Odisha, Karnataka and Goa. “There’s no dearth of funds,” he said. “What are they being used for? To buy laptops when construction workers were illiterate, and washing machines when they have no clothes?” he said.
Justice Lokur also said the AG should get officials to act if the court is expected to stop intervening to protect Article 21. “Article 21 will stay,” justice Lokur said. “We are only enforcing Article 21 (which guarantees a citizen’s right to life and liberty). Why have institutions to make MNREGA and Food Safety Act work not been set up? Where are your institutions? Get your officers to act.”
On this, the AG said that the Centre is helpless when it comes to issues that fall in List II of the Seventh Schedule, which falls in the domain of states. It can only issue directions to states on issues such as jail reforms, which have been assigned by the Constitution to the states, he said.
“We have issued repeated directions to states,” the AG said.