NITI Aayog orders study on ‘economic impact’ of judicial decisions

Indian Express, February 08, 2021

Government think tank NITI Aayog has asked Jaipur-headquartered research organisation Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) International to conduct a study on the “economic impact” of various judgments delivered by Supreme Court, the high courts, and quasi-judicial bodies such as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the “judicial activism” of such courts and tribunals, according to documents seen by The Indian Express.

“Judicial decisions have far-reaching economic impacts which are often not taken into account at the time of decision making. The absence of ex-ante analysis of the economic costs associated with a decision is further exacerbated when judicial activism by courts and tribunals is also in play,” a project brief of the study notes.

The objective of the study, being funded completely by the NITI Aayog, aims a “narrative building for sensitising the judiciary on the economic impact of their decisions” and the findings will be used as a “training input for judges of commercial courts, NGT, HCs, SC,” according to the documents.

Detailed emails with questions on the objective of the study, the proposed timeline and the cost of the project sent to both NITI Aayog as well as CUTS International did not elicit any response.

The study, initially supposed to start in February 2020 and get over by the end of this month, was delayed due to a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19. CUTS International has approached the NITI Aayog with a plea to extend the timelines but is yet to get any response from the think tank, according to sources in the know. The total cost of the project, which was initially Rs 24.8 lakh, is likely to go higher this time around, the sources said.

“The study is to do an objective cost-benefit analysis of the economic impact of the decisions. We are just seeing what are the kind of stakeholders that might have been impacted economically by the decisions and trying to present a dispassionate picture of how the decision has impacted,” a source said. The study is also a part of the larger umbrella project undertaken by NITI Aayog under which it wants to establish a judicial performance index, which would measure the performance of judges at district courts and subordinate levels, as per senior government officials.

As a part of the new study, CUTS International has been asked to study the economic impact of five different decisions by the SC and the NGT which have either stalled or completely stopped projects in various parts of the country.

The first study is on the economic impact of the ban that was imposed by the apex court in March 2019 on the construction of a greenfield airport at Mopa in Goa. The top court had suspended an economic clearance granted for the airport and had then asked the Expert Appraisal Committee to revisit its decision. The ban on construction was lifted by an order of the top court in January 2020 but had several revised conditions.

The four other judgments, for which the economic impact assessment study will be carried out by CUTS International, include the SC’s February 2018 ban on iron ore mining in Goa, a 2013 NGT ban on sand mining in the Yamuna river in Gautam Buddha Nagar, the recurring SC ban on construction of buildings in Delhi and National Capital Region as well as the apex court’s decision rejecting the opening of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant, which has been closed since April 2018.

The Jaipur-based agency has started research on at least one of these judgments, which is the 2013 NGT ban on sand mining on the Yamuna river bed in Gautam Buddha Nagar. While the decision was intended to address illegal sand mining, the decision of the NGT may have had an adverse impact on the mining leaseholder with relevant approvals, thereby causing severe and avoidable losses to the sand mining industry, leaseholders, as well as truck owners.

To study the issue in depth and gain on ground data, CUTS International had recently approached Gautam Buddha Nagar-based non-government organisation SAFE (Social Action for Forest and Environment) to seek their views on the issue.

“The agency has sought views from our organisation for this report. We are surprised to know about this study. Does the government now want to train judges not to give such judgments? Does this come under the purview of the government? Is the government forgetting that due to their negligence, courts have been forced to give such strict orders? Will the NITI Aayog also study how much damage will be done if courts do not give such orders?’’ said Vikrant Tongad, founder of SAFE.

In 2017, the same CUTS International had also conducted an assessment study on the economic impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to impose a ban on the presence of liquor shops within 500 m of any highway.

This news item can also be viewed at: