SC 'surprised over Punjab spending from CAMPA funds to pay lawyer'

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New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Monday frowned over reports that the Punjab government allegedly spent Rs 86 lakh from the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds to pay lawyers' fee to defend a deforestation case before the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice Deepak Gupta said it was "surprised" over reports, and Additional Solicitor General (ASG) A.N.S. Nadkarni, appearing for the Central government, told the bench that it would conduct an audit into the matter.

"We are surprised that an amount of Rs 86 lakh has been spent," said the bench.

When the ASG asked the bench to take cognisance of the issue where Punjab government spent Rs 86 lakh from CAMPA funds, the court denied, saying if it takes notice of the issue it will be called "judicial activism".

Posting the matter for September 27, the court asked the ASG to verify the media report and inform it.

As per the media report, environmentalists in Punjab have questioned the Forest Department's move to spend around Rs 86 lakh to pay senior advocates representing the state from the CAMPA funds to defend a Rs 2 core deforestation case before the NGT.

The CAMPA funds were created under the orders of the top court on an environment-related matter which was to be used for afforestation.

The ASG also told the court that matter related to the appointment of a national regulator to monitor utilisation of these funds was before the Union Cabinet.

Expressing concern over non-utilisation of around Rs 77,000 crore meant for environment protection, the top court had earlier asked Centre as to how it intends to spend the "huge amount".

The bench had noted that many states had diverted the environment funds to other purposes.

After the top court's order, around 10 to 12 funds were created for environmental matters and the amount lying in them was nearly Rs 77,000 crore.