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THE FOREST (CONSERVATION) ACT, 1980: THEN AND NOW

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

Written by- Nandana Suresh


Introduction


India is well known for the rich diversity in culture, custom, art, languages, food, festivals etc. The geographical biodiversity is truly a blessing of the nature and a home to manifold living organisms. The humans are never the custodian of these forests, rivers, mountains and so on. Our Earth will come to an end if there are no more forests. So conservation is a must and the legal system has to enforce at least the existing laws instead of making dilutions.

Forest Act


Indian Forest Act was passed in 1865. During the colonial period, the Indian Forest Act, 1927 was passed. It divided the total forest area into Reserved Forest, Protected Forest and Village Forest for looting the forest products and for the easiness of transport of those products. It is after the independence, the Forest (Conservation) Act [FCA] was passed, came to force on 25th October 1980.

Section 1 discusses title, extent and commencement and says that it has replaced the Forest (Conservation) Ordinance, 1980, containing similar provisions. The Act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.


Section 2 includes restrictions on the State governments to make laws in some matters like giving lease to any private person, permission to remove fallen timber etc. without the prior consent of the Central Government.Section 3 talks about an Advisory Committee by the Central Government to advice on approving matters in Section 2 and regarding the preservation of the forests. Section 3A deals with the penalties for contravention of the provisions of the Act. Section 3B talks about the offences by authorities and Government departments.Section 4 says that the Central Government can make rules for carrying out the laws in the Act with the agreement of the two Houses.Section 5 deals with the repeal of The Forest (Conservation) Ordinance, 1980. [1]


Important Case Laws


1. Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra & Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh Ors.


This was the first case in the country involving issues relating to environment which brought into the balance between development and conservation. This case is also known as ‘Dehradun Valley Litigation’. In Mussoorie hill ranges of Himalayas, limestone was extracted by blasting out the hills with dynamite. Increased quarrying activities led to landslides, aroused out of lack of vegetation, killed villagers and destroyed their home, cattle, agricultural lands etc. The Honourable Supreme Court had received a writ petition from Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra regarding the illegal operation of Vijay Shree Mines.


A Monitoring Committee, headed by D.N. Bhargava, was appointed for inspecting and directing the company on the matters mentioned in the petition. During the course of the litigation, the Parliament enacted the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The Supreme Court held that mining in Reserved Forests in the Dehradun Valley violated the Forest Conservation Act. The pollution caused by the quarries adversely affects the health and safety of the people and should be stopped. The Court was also concerned about the employees of the company. Thus, ordered that mine lessees whose operations were the source of livelihood for many workers terminated by the Court would be given priority for leases in new areas allowed for limestone mining. The Eco-Task Force was ordered to reclaim and reforest the damaged area and be given priority to the workers displaced by mine closure in jobs. [ii]


2. T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India & Ors. – This case is very well known as ‘the forest case in India’. T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad filed a writ petition to protect the Nilgiris hills from deforestation by unlawful timber activities. The Supreme Court examined the misconception about the Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act and also about the National Forest Policy.


The Supreme Court cleared that: In view of the meaning of the “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”. In accordance with Section 2 of the Act, all on-going 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 ply-wood mills and mining of any mineral are non-forest purposes and are therefore, not permissible 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 total cessation of all such activities forthwith. The Supreme Court stated that an implementation system should be formed at the regional and state level to control the transportation of timber. [iii]


This case is an example of continuing mandamus by which the court issues directions periodically, keeps the matter under supervision and monitors the implementation of remedy to the concerned issue.[iv] The judgment made the Central Government the authority to decide concerning environmental laws in India. The case had started off as a petition to stop deforestation in the Nilgiri hills, but ended up expanding the coverage and interpretation of the FCA. The main contribution of this case includes awareness and enforcement of the environmental laws.


3. Society for Protection of Silent Valley v. Union of India- Famously known as ‘Silent Valley Case’, is one of the cases in which the people’s action led to the preservation of the flora and fauna. Silent Valley is located in the rich biodiversity with the lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri langur and a wide variety of angiosperms and other organisms. In 1970, the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) proceeded to construct a hydro-electric project at Silent Valley. Aware of the upcoming adverse effects, environmentalists started to protest against the project and made the people understand the dangers we may cause to the environment as well as to ourselves. Petitions were filed seeking a writ forbidding the State of Kerala from proceeding with the construction.


The unscientific and anti-conservational arguments by the State Government was widely criticised by the Kerala High Court. The judgment readily admitted that project like the hydro-electric project, if sanctioned and set up would have its impact on environment. The adverse effects of this conversion of bio diverse land into a hydro-electric project are listed in the judgment:

  1. The deforestation was bound to affect the climatic conditions in the State and even outside by depriving the State of its legitimate share of rain during the monsoon,

  2. the preservation of the forests was needed for conducting research in medicine, pest control, breeding of economic plants and variety of purposes and

  3. the deforestation was bound to interfere with the balance of nature.

It was stated that the provisions regarding Article 48A (directive principle for protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife) and Article 49 (obligation of the State to protect every monument or place or object of artistic or historic interest), had been in the minds of State during the planning this project. The Court found no reason to interfere in the matters of those of the Government and dismissed the applications. [v]


The judgment hasn’t offered any protection to the forest. But the people fought a battle to bring huge changes. In November 1983, the Silent Valley Hydroelectric Project was thus, cancelled. The Prime Minister then, Rajiv Gandhi inaugurated the Silent Valley National Park in September 1985.


4. Om Prakash Choudhary v. State of Rajasthan- The petitioners filed a writ to seek a direction for demolition of the construction of Salim Ali Nature Interpretation Center at Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur. The National Wild Life Action Plan suggested setting up of the Wild Life Institute of India, a separate division of wild life education/ interpretation. It recommended establishment of model interpretation programme and posting of fully trained Education Officers at several National Parks.

Keoladeo National Park is world famous for the assemblage of migratory birds and is the only wintering site in the country for the Siberian crane. The rich vegetation there is a home for numerous flora and fauna. In 1981, the park was declared as Ramsar site under the National Convention on Wetlands and as a National Park. It was later given the status of world heritage site under the World Heritage Site Convention.


The Honourable Rajasthan High Court clearly stated that the construction of an interpretation center in a forest area is not covered under the non-forest purpose and under Section 2 of FCA, neither the State Government nor any authority can give permission for the use of forest land for non-forest use. The writ petition was dismissed as it is motivated by private interests, says the Court. [vi]


The State of FCA now


The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has proposed several amendments to the FCA which may dilute protection to forests. They propose to grant exemptions to railways, roads, oil exploration, wild life tourism and strategic projects in forests. Also aims to empower State governments to lease forest land to individuals and corporations. The Ministry has said to increase the forest area to one-third the land area of the country by 2030 as per the target under National Forest Policy. If the proposed amendments come into force, it will dilute the provisions of the landmark decision of the Supreme Court in Godavarman case. [vii]


Conclusion


People in the ages, when there was no social media, much awareness about conservation of environment has successfully preserved the forests. So what is it that’s makes us hesitant in the struggle for clean air, water etc.? In Madhya Pradesh, Buxwaha forest is at the verge of becoming a diamond mine, which is capable of giving the Government Rs. 1,500 crore in the form of annual revenue. Around 2 lakh trees have to be cut down for the mine of Aditya Birla Group’s Essel Mining and Industries Limited (EMIL). No one is blind about the adverse effects of the disappearance of 2,15,875 trees. [viii] A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the project. An activist, Dr. P.G. Najpande pleaded the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to quash the permission for the mine.


This is only one among the numerous threats to the forests, many more has to reach to the people. The ten fundamental duties include the obligation towards nature. Article 51A says that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India (g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have compassion for living creature.[ix] It is not just a legal duty, as it is said, is fundamental.


References

[i] The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (Central Act No. 69 of 1980)

[ii] Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra & Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh Ors., 1985 AIR 652

[iii] T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, (2011) 15 SCC 260

[iv] Vineet Narain v. Union of India, (1998) 1 SCC 226

[v] Prasad, M K. (1984). Silent Valley Case: An Ecological Assessment Cochin University Law Review, 8, 128-138

[vi] Om Prakash Choudhary v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 2005 Raj 18

[vii] Editorial, “Government proposes changes in forest conservation law to boost plantations in private land”, March 12, 2021

[viii] Madhya Pradesh State Forest Department:

[ix] Dr. J.N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India 509 (Central Law Agency, Allahabad-2,2020)


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