Efficacy of Forest Legislation in India

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Forests are an important part of the environment and there is a need to protect the forest in India for deforestation. Cutting down of the tress to built houses or any other construction work as became very problematic now a day and to save the forest for this the laws have been put in the place. Acts like the India Forest Act or the Forest Conservation Act, also there is state legislation to. We can see that through the various case laws given below.

In the case of State Of Kerala And Anr vs The Gwalior Rayon Silk; It is declared that the Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971 is constitutionally valid. There shall be no order as to costs. The holding and the reasons expressed in the leading opinion happily coincide with ours.

Nevertheless, the problems raised and the points debated bear upon such seminal Issues that some supplementary observations from us may not be supererogatory. Certain Owners of vast extents of private, forests aggrieved by the deprivation, without compensation, of their own under the Kerala Private Forests (Vesting & Assignment) Act, 1971 (Act 26 of 1971) (hereinafter called, for short, the Forest Act) challenged its vires under art. 226 of the Constitution on the score that it violated their fundamental rights under arts. 14, 19 and 31 and was not immunized by art. 31A from the lethal sting of art. 13. The High Court upheld the attack and voided the statute.

The defeated State has sought in appeal to sustain the constitutionality of the law while others who have suffered by the operation of the statute have come up directly to this Court under art. 32. The impugned Act vests in the State lands of these latifundia, flatly refusing any the littlest compensation, and the issue is whether the wings of art. 31A is wide enough and the provisions of the Forest Act fair enough for the Court to grant constitutional shelter. The State wields the shield of art. 31A to ward off the private owners’ sword thrust of art. 13 read with arts. 14, 19 and 31

We must examine the application of art. 31A to the Forest Act. The Forest Act survives the attack on the score of colorable legislation. Considered in this light it is not possible to hold that S. 10 has no nexus with the agrarian settlement. Of course, the program held out in the provision, if not implemented within a reasonable time or otherwise perverted to none- agrarian purposes, may give rise to judicial skepticism about the Government’s bona fides and induce consequent remedial action. As we see it, the Forest Act is calculated to bring benefit to landless laborers, tribals and other proletarian groups in the over-populated state of Kerala. The fear that the executive win dawdles and delay unreasonably or act obliquely to defeat the agrarian welfare content of the measure may gain credibility when the scheme is not legislatively time-bound. [1]

In the case of Kamaruddin n. Sheikh v. State of Maharashtra; The petitioner owned the land which was declared as a private forest by an order passed by the Sub-Divisional Officer, Bombay. He contented to protect his property interests. He filed an appeal before the Maharashtra Revenue Tribunal. That appeal was dismissed by the Tribunal. He received a letter later on from the Divisional Forest Officer, Borivali, directing to stop quarrying operations and to pay a royalty to the Forest Department. The Maharashtra Revenue Tribunal after remand allowed the appeal and concluded that the land in question was not forest land. It was held by the High Court that the land was a private forest which vests in the State Government under the Maharashtra Private Forests (Acquisition) Act, 1975.[2]

In the case of Sri Ram Saha V. State Of West Bengal; In this petition, the contention of the petitioner was not to be prevented him from felling down some of the existing trees standing on his land which has been recorded in the records of right under the classification Bagan (garden). He contended that at no point in time that said the land was a forest of any nature and the same has never been converted from an earlier forest.

The concerned trees intended to fell, are unproductive mango trees and they are very old trees and have lost their fruit-bearing ability and the petitioner has been incurring heavy financial loss every year and the trees have been affected with parasites and other uncontrollable worms so much so that any further standing of the trees would jeopardize the fruit-bearing ability of the other adjacent trees and they are urgently needed to be uprooted and accordingly, the petitioner has decided to cut down the said affected unproductive old trees of the garden for the renovation of the garden by plantation of saplings therein.

The Supreme Court directed that each State Government should constitute within one month an Expert Committee to identify areas which are forests. Irrespective of whether they are so notified, recognized or classified under any law, and irrespective of the ownership of the land of such forest, and identify areas which were earlier forests but stand degraded, denuded or cleared and also identify areas covered by plantation trees belonging to the Government and those belonging to private persons. The SC also held that the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was enacted to check deforestation which ultimately results in ecological imbalance; and therefore, the provisions made therein for the conservation of forests and matters connected therewith must apply to all forests irrespective of the nature of ownership or classification thereof.[3]

In the case of Bhagwan Bhoi V. State Of Orissa; In this case, the land was shown as forest and in possession of the Forest Department. The only question was as to whether the petitioner can carry on Saw Mill on the forest land. It was stated that since the petitioner was not granted the license for Saw Mill after 1997, so cannot be renewed.

The Supreme Court while considering the question about the object and purpose of the enactment of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 issued some guidelines which are as follows: “Given the meaning of the word “forest” in the Act, it is obvious that prior approval of the Central Government is required for any non-forest activity within the area of any “forest”.

Under Section 2 of the Act, all ongoing activity within any forest in any State throughout the country, without the prior approval of the Central Government, must cease forthwith. It is, therefore, clear that the running of Saw Mills of any kind including veneer or plywood mills, and mining of any mineral are non-forest purposes and are, therefore, not permitted without prior approval of the Central Government. Accordingly, any such activity is prima facie violation of the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. Every State Government must promptly ensure the total cessation of all such activities forthwith.[4]

In the case of Rural Litigation & Entitlement vs the State Of U.P, the Union of India submits that from the protection of the environment in the unique Doon Valley, it would be desirable that limestone mining operations in the Valley are stopped completely.”Nariman questioned the value of this statement indicated in the affidavit that it was the department’s submission to the Court. We do not think that the Ministry Secretary’s affidavit can be brushed aside that way. Read in the background of the directions in the Order of 19th October 1987, and in the sequence of the first affidavit not having been accepted by the Court as compliance, we must assume that Mr. Seshan has disclosed the stand of the Union of India with full authority and intending to bind the Union of India by his statement.

We are separately dealing with the Forest (Conservation) Act and its bearing and effect on this aspect. It is sufficient to note that the Act does not permit mining in the forest area. We are also satisfied that if mining activity even to a limited extent is permitted in the future, it would be not congenial to ecology and environment and the natural calm and peace which is a special feature of this area in its normal condition shall not be restored. This tourist zone in its natural setting would certainly be at its best if its serenity is restored most fully. We are of the considered opinion that mining activity in this Valley must be completely stopped but as indicated in another part of this judgment such a situation will be available only after the original leases of the working mines are over.[5]

In conclusion, forest legislation has helped to shed light on issues that were not noticeable before and it has helped in saving the forest. Making deforestation a very serious issue was a need of the time. And legislation might lack at times but it has been more efficient to solve the environmental problem or at least to save the natural environment left.

For Important Case Laws of Environmental Law, Click Here.

For more articles on Environmental Law, Click Here.

For law notes, Click Here.


[1] 1973 AIR 2734, 1974 SCR (1) 671

[2] 1996 (4) Bom. C. Rep. 209.

[3] (1999) 1 Cal LT 399 (HC).

[4] 2003 SCC Online Jhar 125.

[5] 1989 AIR 594, 1989 SCC Supl. (1) 537

Author Details: Priyanka Mane

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)

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