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THE FOREST CONSERVATION ACT, 1980

A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, that purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. Forests play an important role in our life. They facilitate us various resources like raw material, oxygen and many more. But humans are cutting the forests at a large amount for their needs. So to regulate such inhuman activities towards the forests the Government of India enacted the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

INTRODUCTION

Forests are one of the oldest resources that nature provides. The whole ecosystem is dependent on the forests as they are an important part of natural habitat. So, it should be our prime duty to preserve them and not harm the cycle of our nature. People have become so selfish that they have started clearing the entire forests. They forget that they are putting our coming generation in danger. The study finds that over the past 800,000 years the amount of oxygen found in the atmosphere has decreased by 0.7% and continues to decline.

In 1980, the Parliament, in response to the rapid decline in the forest covers in India, and also to fulfil the Constitutional obligation under Article 48-A, enacted a new legislation called the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. Deforestation causes ecological imbalance and leads to environmental deterioration. This act was enacted on 25th October, 1980.

HISTORY

The first legal draft on this issue was the Indian Forest Act, 1865. Later, it was replaced by the Indian Forest Act, 1927 during the colonial period. Whenever any law gets passed, it carries the hope that it will address the social issues for which it was passed. When the Indian Forest Act, 1927 was passed, it carried the same hope but it was solely confined to British interests. 

The main focus of the Act of 1927 was on timber. The Act of 1927 was divided into the 13 chapters and consisted of the 86 Sections. It gave power to the State to control the rights of tribal people to use forests. Under this Act, the government was also empowered to create reserved forests. It aimed to regulate the forest produce and to levy taxes on timber and other forest produce, which later became the source of revenue for the government. It never aimed to protect the forests of the country and just wanted to regulate the cutting of timber and other raw materials used in the industries.

After independence, the need to conserve the forests became stronger and therefore, the President of India enforced the Forest (Conservation) Ordinance, 1980. The ordinance was later repealed by virtue of Section 5 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 which came into force on October 25, 1980. It was passed to protect the forests of the country and the matters related to it. It also covers the issues which were not addressed by the previous Act. Under the 1980 Act, the restriction was made on the use of the forests for non-forest purposes. 

CONSTITUTIONAL MANDATE FOR FOREST CONSERVATION

When the Constitution of India was adopted in 1950, the framers were not aware that in future the issues related to forest conservation may arise. This was realised later as the Constitution (Forty- Second Amendment) Act, 1976 was made and Article 48A was added to the part of Directive Principle of State Policy and Article 51A as a fundamental duty of every citizen of India.

Article 48-A: protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife – the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

Article 51(g) states that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.

OBJECTIVE

The trees in the forest doesn’t provide us only oxygen for breathing, they do a lot more than that. They also provide us with some useful products like wood and food. Forests are an important part of our nature; they maintain the entire ecosystem and water cycle of the earth.

The object of the Act is to maintain ecology and to preserve the forest of our country. It is also the object of this Act to regenerate the forests by planting trees and increase the forest growth in our country. In this the term forest includes all types of forest like reserved forest, protected forest etc.

  1. Protection and Conservation of forest.
  2. Preventing de-reservation of forest that was reserved under Forest Act 1927.
  3. To restrict private leasing of forest land.
  4. To prevent clear felling of natural grown trees.
  5. Restricting the use of forest land for non-forest purpose.

There is a target form the government of India that 33% of the land will be forest area. According to forest survey report the Total Forest and Tree cover is 24.56% of the geographical area of the country. The Total Forest cover is 7, 12,249 sq. km which is 21.67% of the geographical area of the country. The Tree cover is 2.89% of the geographical area of the country.

FEATURES

This Act has the following features:

State to seek permission from Central Government- If state want to do any changes on the forest land like they want to use a reserved forest to non-forest purpose, reforestation, etc. For these things the state government want the approval form the central government. E.g. Mining is a non-forest activity if a state want to do miming in a reserved forest, firstly they have to take permission form the central government.

Constitution of Advisory Committees- A advisory committee is formed regarding this act so that this committee will help to implement the laws. In this committee we have direct general of forest, ministry of environment, chairperson, etc. It is formed by central government. This committee will approve permission and the function of this committee is to advice the central government on any matter connected with conservation of forest.

Diversion of forest land for other purpose is prohibited– The use of forest land for non-forest activities is prohibited by this act. But with the permission of central government state can do so. E.g. state wants to cut trees for their project so that development happens but state have to take permission form the central government to cut trees. If someone do diversion of forest in their purpose then it is a cognizable offence.

Immediate closure of non-forest activities- If there is an illegal activity or non-forest activity is occurring then this act can imminently stop the activity.

Special provision for some non-forest activities- There are some non-forest activity in which the cutting of trees is required but they are very important, this is also required the permission of central government. The activities are Transmission lines, Hydro elective project. We all know that these required large numbers of tree cutting but this act has the provision.

This Act also provides penalties for the infringement of the provisions of this Act- If someone not follows this act or guilty under this act then he/she gets the imprisonment of 15 days which can be extended to 6 months and he /she will be fined 500rs or more.

SHORT TITLE, EXTENT AND COMMENCEMENT

  • This first statute on the subject was the Indian Forest Act, 1865. It was repealed and replaced by The Indian Forest Act, 1927. The present act i.e. The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was passed with a view to check deforestation. This act covers the aspects left out by the act of 1927. It aims at putting a restriction on the de-reservation of forests or the use of forest-land for non-forest purposes.
  • This Act extends to whole of India except the States of Jammu & Kashmir, which has its own State Act.
  • This act is known as The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. It was implemented on 25th Oct. 1980 with five sections (05). This is Act, No. 69 of 1980 and amended in 1988.

RESTRICTION ON THE DE-RESERVATION OF FOREST OR USE OF FOREST LAND FOR NON-FOREST PURPOSE

Section 2 of the Act deals with restriction on the de-reservation of forests or use of forest-land for non-forest purposes. It restricts the state governments and other authorities to make laws in the following matters without the prior permission of the Central government:

  • That they cannot de-reserve any forest land or any portion of it reserved under any law for the time it being enforced in the State or any other part.
  • That the forest land or any portion of it cannot be used for non-forest purposes.
  • That they cannot assign any forest land or any portion of it by way of lease to any private person, or anybody or organisation not controlled by the Government of India.
  • That a forest land or any part of it grown naturally may be cleared for the re-afforestation.
  • The explanation of this section defines the term “non-forest purposes”. It means cleaning any forest land or its portion for the purpose of
  • Planting tea, coffee, spices, rubber, palms, oil-bearing, plants, or medicinal plants;
  • Or for any purpose other than re-afforestation, but it should not include any work related to preservation, evolution and administration of forests and wildlife, namely, the establishment of check-posts, fire lines, wireless communications and construction of fencing, bridges and culverts, dams, waterholes, trench marks, boundary marks, pipelines or other like purposes.

APPEAL TO NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL (SEC. 2A)

  • Any person aggrieved by an order or decision of the State Government or other authority made under section 2, on or after the commencement of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, in accordance with the provisions of that Act.

CONSTITUTION OF ADVISORY COMMITTEE

As per Section 3 of this Act, the Central government has the power to constitute an advisory committee to advice on matters related to the 

  1. Approving as under Section 2 of this Act.
  2. Any matter referred by the Central government, connected with the preservation of forests.
  3. Rule 3 of the Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2003 provides for the composition of the Committee. It says that the Committee shall be composed of the following members:-
    • Additional Director
    • Additional Commissioner (Soil Conservation), Ministry of AgricultureMember
    • Three eminent experts in forestry and allied discipline Environment . Scientists (non-officials)-Member
    • Inspector
    • Director

PENALTY FOR CONTRAVENTION OF THE PROVISION OF THE ACTS

  • Section 3A of the Act provides that whoever contravenes or abets the contravention of any of the provisions of section 2, shall be punishable with simple imprisonment for a period, which may extend to fifteen days. A perusal of this section shows that the Act contemplates only the punishment of simple imprisonment and it does not contemplate any punishment in terms of fine.

OFFENCES BY AUTHORITIES OR GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS (SEC. 3B)

  • This Section was also added by the amendment made in 1988. This section talks about the offences committed by the Authorities and the government Department. 
  • According to section 3B(1), whenever any offence under this Act is committed by any department of the government, head of the government, any authority or any person who at the time of the commission of the offence was responsible for the conduct of business, shall be made liable for the offence under the Act.  
  • However, the same person can save himself by proving that the offence was committed without his knowledge and also, he took all the possible measures to prevent the commission of the offence. 
  • According to section 3B(2), when an offence under this Act has been committed by a person other than the department of the government, head of the government or the authority mentioned under sub-section 1, with his consent or due to his negligence, then such persons shall be declared guilty under the Act and also be made liable to proceedings and punishments. 

POWER TO MAKE RULES

  • Section 4 of the Act vests the Central Government with the power to make rules for carrying out the provisions of this Act. Every rule made under this Act shall be laid, as soon as may be after it is made, before each house of the Parliament, while it is in session, for a total period of thirty days which may be comprised in one session or in two or more successive sessions.

REPEAL AND SAVING

  • The Forest (Conservation) Ordinance, 1980 (17 of 1980), is hereby repeal.
  • Notwithstanding such repeal, anything done or any action taken under the provisions of the said Ordinance shall be deemed to have been done or taken under the corresponding provision of this Act.

FOREST CONSERVATION AND JUDICIAL ATTITUDE

  • In India, the judiciary has shown deep concern for the forest conservation. The judiciary has not only played a pivotal role in a manner to interpret the forest laws to protect the forest and environment but it also has shown judicial activism by entertaining public interest litigations under article 32 and 226 of the Constitution.
  • The Supreme Court and High Courts while protecting environment and promoting sustainable development have delivered many important judgments.

Rural Litigation & Entitlement … vs. State Of U.P on 30 August, 1988

  • This case is popularly known as Doon Valley Case. The Supreme Court received a writ petition from Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra regarding the operation of lime-stone quarries in the Mussoorie Hill range, India. It was argued that the quarries caused a hazard to healthy environment and affected the perennial water springs.
  • The Court appointed an expert committee for the purpose of inspecting the lime-stone quarries. They divided all lime-stone quarries into three categories according to the grade of the adverse impact of the mining operations.
  • The Court was of the view that lime-stone quarrying and excavation of the lime-stone deposits seemed to affect the perennial water springs. The environmental disturbance had however to be weighed in the balance against the need of lime-stone quarrying for industrial purposes in the country. It decided that category C quarries should not be allowed to be operated and a number of the quarries listed in category B should not be operated as well. Those quarries of category A were divided into two groups depending whether they were located inside or outside of the city limits of Mussoorie. Those outside of the city limits were allowed to be operated. For those within the city limits the Court appointed another expert committee that would examine the possibility to operate.
  • The Court was conscious that as a result of its order, the workmen employed in the closed quarries will be thrown out of their employment. It emphasized though that afforestation and soil conservation programmes would have to be taken up in the closed quarries and ordered that the Government of India should, as far as practicable, provide employment to these workmen in the afforestation and soil conservation programmes.

Tarun Bharat Sangh, Alwar vs Union Of India And Others on 8 April, 1993

  • This case dealt with illegal mining activity in an area declared as Tiger Reserve. The petitioner, a voluntary organization interested in protecting the environment, approached the court complaining of the widespread illegal mining activity going on in the area declared as a Tiger Reserve in the State of Rajasthan. It prayed that in the interest of ecology, environment and rule of law, the activity should stop. It was alleged that there were notifications prohibiting all mining activity, and yet the State Government had granted hundreds of licences for mining marble, dolomite and other materials and that such section was contrary to law.
  • The Court appointed a committee to ensure due observance of the various Acts and Notifications that had been issued in respect of the protected area. The committee stated that there were 215 mines completely falling within the areas declared as protected forest while 47 mines fell partly inside and partly outside the areas declared as protected forest. The court emphasized that this was not a case where the court was called upon to shut down an activity being carried on lawfully, in the name of higher considerations of ecology and environment. It was a simple case to ensure observance of enacted laws made by the State to protect the environment and ecology of the area. In such a case, there was no need to be oppressed by considerations of balancing the interest of economy and ecology. That had already been done by the Legislature and Parliament. It observed that no mining lease could have been granted or renewed within the forest without clearance from the Central Government in accordance with the forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and the Rules made there-under. Admittedly, no such prior approval or clearance of central Government was obtained.
  • It concluded that the mining activity was illegal and had to stop. Maybe this would have the effect of bringing to halt the activity involving a good amount of capital and a large number of workers. But in view of the inherent illegality attaching to them, there was no option but to close them. Besides that, it was directed that the mining activity in the mines situated outside the protected forest areas but within the tiger reserve could continue for a period of four months. If no permission to continue mining was obtained from the Central Government within the said period of four months, the mining activity in the entire area declared as tiger reserve had to stop

T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union Of India & Ors on 12 March, 1947

  • In TN. Godavarman Thimmulpad v. Union of India, (1997) 2 SCC 267 (popularly known as Forest Conservation case), the Supreme Court issued interim directions that all the on-going activities within any forest in any State throughout the country, without the permission of the Central Government must be stopped forthwith. Running of saw mills including veneer or plywood mills within the forests was also stopped. Felling of trees in the State of Arunachal Pradesh has totally banned in certain forests whereas in other forests, it was suspended in accordance with the working plan of the State Government. Movement of cut trees and timber from any of the seven North-Eastern States to any other State was completely banned. The Court issued directions to stop falling of trees in other States such as the State of J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, with a view to protect and preserve the forests. The Supreme Court modified some of these directions subsequently. The Court called for the comprehensive statement of all the States about their past activity and their future programme to tackle the problem of degradation and degeneration of forests.

Krishnadevi Malchand Kamathia & … vs. Bombay Environmental Action … on 31 January, 2011

  • In this case, an application was filed by the District collector to initiate the contempt proceedings against the appellants for violating the orders to the court. The court had issued directions to remove the newly constructed bund so that seawater can come in to protect the mangrove forests. The order tried to restrain the appellants from indulging in any activity which will harm the mangrove forests. The appellants have the licence to manufacture salt at the place. The Supreme Court held that the manufacturing of salt by solar evaporation of seawater is not permitted in the area as that area is home to the mangrove forests. The mangrove forests are of great ecological importance and are also ecologically sensitive and that is why they fall under the category of CRZ-I. The Coastal Area Classification and Development Regulations, 1991 classifies the Coastal Regulatory Zone, and according to it, the manufacturing of salt is prohibited

CONCLUSION

  • The forests are very important to our nature as they maintain the ecological balance. But, a frightening rate of deforestation all over the country has started causing ecological imbalances and harm to our environment. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 was passed with the aim to protect the forests by controlling the rates of deforestation. 
  • A perusal of the above mentioned decisions clearly show that judiciary live to protect and preserve the forests. At the same time it has never been antithetical to the development. In fact the whole approach of the judiciary is in consonance with the sustainable development and thus it must be appreciated.

AUTHOR:

MANUJ GAUTAM & AMISH TIWARI

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