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Supreme Court Holds: Non-Forest Activities Cannot Be Permitted Without Prior Approval From Central Government

Anila Sabu ,
  23 July 2022       Share Bookmark

Court :
Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 10294 OF 2013 With CIVIL APPEAL No. 8454/2014 CIVIL APPEAL No. 8173/2016 CIVIL APPEAL No. 11000/2013 WRIT PETITION (Civil) No. 1008/2021 WRIT PETITION (Civil) No. 1031/2021 WRIT PETITION (Civil) No. 1320/2021

Case Title:
Narinder Singh & Ors Vs Divesh Bhutani & Ors

Date Of Order:
July 21, 2022

Judges:
Justices AM Khanwilkar, Abhay S. Oka and CT Ravikumar

Parties:
Petitioner: NARINDER SINGH & ORS
Respondent: DIVESH BHUTANI & ORS

SUBJECT

The Supreme Court, in this case, held that every change in the use of forest or considered forest land requires prior approval from the Central Government.

Important Provisions

1. Article 21 of the Constitution

This article states that it is a fundamental right of individuals “to live in a pollution-free environment”.

2. Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 -

A. Section 2 - The Central Government must employ the powers granted to it under Section 2 by developing uniform and scientific standards for implementing the principles of sustainable development before the State Government or the competent authority can approve usage for non-forest activities.

3. Indian Forest Act of 1927

Discussion of the concept of a forest

BRIEF FACTS

  • According to a bench made up of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Abhay S. Oka, and CT Ravikumar the land covered by the special orders issued under Section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900, had all the characteristics of forest lands according to the meaning of Section 2 of the Forest Act, 1980.
  • With effect from October 25, 1980, the bench held that the State Government or other competent authority cannot enable its use for non-forest activities without the Central Government's prior approval.
  • The court then issued an order directing all relevant authorities to take action to demolish any remaining illegal structures on special order-covered land that were built after October 25, 1980, without the Central Government's prior approval, and to restore the pre-construction status quo, which included beginning serious reforestation and afforestation projects.
  • With effect from October 25, 1980, the bench held that the State Government or other competent authority cannot enable its use for non-forest activities without the Central Government's prior approval.
  • The court then issued an order directing all relevant authorities to take action to demolish any remaining illegal structures on special order-covered land that were built after October 25, 1980, without the Central Government's prior approval, and to restore the pre-construction status quo, which includes beginning serious reforestation and afforestation projects.

QUESTIONS RAISED

Whether a land that is covered under a special order issued by the Government of Haryana under Section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 ('PLPA') is a 'forest land' within the meaning of the 1980 Forest Act'?

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT

  • The appellant argued that the subject properties cannot automatically be regarded as forest lands under the 1980 Forest Act just because they are covered by notices or orders made by the State of Haryana under Sections 3, 4, and 5.
  • Although the disputed areas were listed as unclassified forests in the State Forest Department's records, he argued that this was insufficient proof because the Forest Department simply serves as a supervisory body.
  • The appellant further noted that a Section 3 of PLPA notification can only be issued where, in the view of the State Government, sub-soil water conservation or erosion prevention is required in any area subject to erosion or likely to become liable to erosion.
  • The appellant emphasised that the State Government may acquire such lands under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, or it may do so at the owners' request.
  • In either case, the acquisition must take place within three months of the notification issued under Section 35 and no later than twelve years from the date of the notification. He argued that the 1927 Act should be the primary piece of legislation governing forests.
  • The appellant argued that the PLPA is not a piece of law that deals with or is intended to deal with forests on private properties is strengthened by the observation that the provisions of Sections 35 to 38 dealing with private lands have been included in Chapter V of the 1927 Act.
  • The Faridabad Tehsil had not received a Section 3 of PLPA notification, the appellant argued.
  • He emphasised that the Tehsils within District Faridabad are Ballabhgarh and Faridabad.

Arguments Advanced By The Respondent

  • The respondent argued that the 1980 Forest Act had the consequence that forest lands can always be diverted for non-forest use with the prior approval of the Central Government, with the exception of the reasons listed in Section 2.
  • The courts attention was then drawn to the different PLPA provisions and periodic adjustments made to them. He said that the 2019 Amendment Act's Statement of Objects and Reasons makes it quite obvious that the PLPA's goal was not to annihilate property rights.
  • The respondant then argued that the major goal was to preserve subsoil water and stop soil erosion. It was argued that PLPA had absolutely nothing to do with the problem of forests.
  • The respondent contended that since virtually all of the area in Panchkula, Ambala, Yamunanagar, Gurugram, Faridabad, and some other Districts had been designated under Sections 3, 4, and 5 of PLPA, the entire region encompassing the above mentioned Districts could not be a forest.
  • The respondent added that the only factual assertion made in the prior affidavits, which were dated 08 December 1996 and 25 February 1997, was that the areas notified under Sections 4 and 5 of the PLPA were shown as State-regulated forest areas while the notifications were in effect. Later on, though, such practise was stopped. The affidavits make no mention of the notification lands' status.

Analysis By The Court

The court obsetrved that, in a sense, forests serve as the lungs that produce the oxygen necessary for human living. Our ecosystem relies heavily on the forests to prevent pollution, and hence they felt that citizens should exercise their right to live in an environment free from pollution, woods.

The court further determined that the area in the Ballabhgarh villages of Anangpur, Ankhir, and Mewla Maharajpur, which was protected by a special order of the Haryana government under Section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900, was "forest land."

The bench took note of the definitions of forest under the 1927 Forest Act and the 1980 Forest Act before turning its attention to the current situation. The bench further observed that no forest area or portion thereof may be used for any non-forest uses in accordance with the 1980 Act.

The court noted that the prohibition on using forest land for purposes other than forestry without first obtaining approval from the Central Government does not have the goal of fully prohibiting such activities.

Conclusion

With effect from October 25, 1980, the State Government or other competent authority cannot permit the use of the lands covered by the special orders issued under Section 4 of the PLPA for non-forest activities without the prior approval of the Central Government because they have all the characteristics of forest lands as defined by Section 2 of the 1980 Forest Act. The central government's prior approval is a requirement for any change in the use of forestland, or land that is deemed to be forest, in any way.

The State or another competent body may, with the consent of the Central Government, issue authorisation for non-forest use even when the special orders outlined in Section 4 of the PLPA are in effect.

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