- “Unlawfully purchased forest products, such as sandalwood, rosewood, or other rare species, and then worked upon, resulting in a product primarily based on the important forest produce, would escape the Kerala Forest Act's rigours, the differentiation sought defies the Act's purpose” - the court observed.
- The court overturned a previous judgement that stated that goods or products made by human labour are not per se forest products.
- The above observations were made by a bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and S. Ravindra Bhat.
- In this instance, the court was considering an appeal from a Kerala High Court decision that upheld the accused's conviction and sentence for an offence punishable under Section 27 of the Kerala Forest Act.
- The accused was found guilty after the Kerala Forest Department submitted a complaint alleging that he illegally had sandalwood oil, a forest product.
- Sandalwood oil is not a forest produce for the purposes of the Act, according to one of the arguments made in the appeal.
- It was argued that "sandalwood oil" cannot be included in the reference to wood oil in Section 2 (f).
- As per the Section 2(f) of the Act "forest" includes: (i) the following whether found in or brought from, a forest or not that is, to say timber, charcoal, wood-oil, gum, resin, natural varnish, bark, lac, fibres and roots of sandalwood and rosewood.
- The Supreme Court disagreed with the interpretation that sandalwood oil was not "forest produce" in Forest Range Officer v. P. Mohammed Ali 1993 Supp (3) SCC 627 and stated that the expression "wood oil" could refer to items other than those enumerated, and that wood oil referred to natural products and not those derived through chemical means.
- However, in Suresh Lohiya v. State of Maharashtra(1996) 10 SCC 397, the court struck a discordant note, establishing a contrast between "nature's gifts" and articles "made with the aid of human labour," which, according to the court, were not included in the Act's description of "forest produce."
- The bench disagreed with the interpretation made in Suresh Lohiya.
- The court pointed out that the High Court's decision is valid insofar as it proceeded on the assumption that sandalwood oil is a forest product.
- The court, however, set aside the High Court judgement and acquitted the accused after accepting the contentions raised by the appellant (accused).
Do you think that products/articles created from forest produce by human labour should be considered as forest produce? Share your views in the comments section.