The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 is legislated for the conservation of forests and for matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto. Provisions made therein for the conservation of forests and for matters connected therewith, must apply to all forests irrespective of the nature of ownership or classification thereof.
Supreme Court of India widening the scope of the Act has held the word "forest" must be understood according to its dictionary meaning. It includes all statutorily recognized forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise. The prior approval of 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 has to be stopped. The court held 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.
The above judgment was rendered in a case , known as T.N.Godavarman Tirumulpad Case in which many orders have been issued by the Hon'ble Supreme Court . A High Power Committee was also appointed by the SC.
Under the grab of removing infected Saal trees, the trees which do not have any disease have also been cut . When SC noticed this it restrained the M.P. Government and its functionaries to cut any of the trees, even if the opinion of the State Government is that it is deceased.
When wagons containing illegal timber was detained at Railway Station then SC authorized MoEF to take steps as it deems proper for necessary investigation, storage, disposal, etc. of detained timber. Detainment of trucks will be permitted only on certificates being issued by the respective Collectors themselves to the effect that the said trucks are only transiting through the State of Madhya Pradesh with legal timber and that no part of the timber contained in the trucks is of Madhya Pradesh origin.
The Orissa Saw Mills and and Saw Pits (Control) Act, 1991 empowers to imposing total ban on saw mills business within a distance of 10 k.m. from reserved forest. The validity of the said enactment was challenged. SC has held that the legislation is in public interest intended to preserve forest wealth and environment and to stop illicit felling of forest growth. It is also not violative of Art.14 being neither arbitrary nor unreasonable nor discriminatory.
SC has put restrictions on export of timber. The quantity of the timber and firewood to be exported from the State shall be determined on the basis of availability of forest produce after catering to the needs and requirement of the local people of the State, which has power to regulate the transit of timber and other forest produce .
SC has held that a District Collector of Union Territory is not an officer of Central Government so as to grant sanction under the Act.Forest Act does not observe collector as an officer of Central Government for taking prior approval of Central Government.
A scheme was framed under the Capital of Punjab (Development and Regulation) Act, 1952 for allotment of industrial plots. But the authorities have ignored the notification declaring land as reserved forest. SC has held that in preparing the development scheme, the existing notification reserving the major portion of land as forest under the Indian Forest Act and restriction on in periphery of 900 metres from Air Force base under the Aircrafts Act were overlooked. SC has held that the doctrine of " estoppel " and " legitimate expectation " cannot be applied against Administration to compel it to allot the original plots because that would be permitting violation of Statutes intended to conserve forest and restrictions imposed in the interests of general public and security of Nation under Aircrafts Act. Doctrine of 'estoppel' cannot be allowed to be urged against Administration. Supreme Court cannot direct the Administration to commit breach of statutory provisions and thus harm general public interests.
SC has held that no distinction can be made between Government Forests and private forest in the matter of forest wealth of the nation and in the matter of environment and ecology. The obligation of sustainable development requires that a proper assessment should be made of the forest wealth and the establishment of industries based on forest produce should not only be restricted accordingly but their working should also be monitored closely to ensure that the required balance is not disturbed.
SC has held that movement of trucks through forests will be permitted only on certificates being issued by the respective Collectors themselves to the effect that the said trucks are only transiting through the State of Madhya Pradesh with legal timber and that no part of the timber contained in the trucks is of Madhya Pradesh origin.
A Scheme was submitted by the Central Empowered Committee before the MoEF. for afforestation activities. SC directed them to consider the same . SC also held that saw mill owners not having valid licence for running saw mills till date to issue orders of closure.
SC interpreting the provision of the Forest Conservation Act has held that once a notification declaring a land as reserve forest is published , then all the rights in the said land claimed by any person come to an end and no longer available.
SC has taken note of a report that between 2001 and 2003 the dense forest coverage in the country has been reduced by 26,245 sq kms. SC has directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to submit reasons for the same.
High Courts have also issued various directions so as to protect the Forests of our country. Kerala HC has held that construction of forest lodge, at Parambikkulam Wild Sanctury, previous permission of Central government is mandatory.
Kerala State Government has enacted several laws for the protections of the Forests in the State. While interpreting the provisions of Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971, Kerala HC has held that vested forests cannot be assigned without the approval of Central Government. Irrespective of what is provided in Sec.10 of the State Act, 1971, all such forests which are vested in the State Government by reason of the conditions of Section. 3 (1) of the said Act cannot be assigned except with the prior approval of the Central Government as a result of the overriding provision contained in Sec. 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Kerala HC has held that Central Act has no retrospective effect. It shall not affect the lands which are given for cultivation prior to that. Each occupier/encroacher who prays for regularisation and consequent issue of title deeds in his favor shall pay a reasonable amount of compensation to the State for the injury caused by him to the general public .
Occupation of forest lands by tribals is another problem faced while protecting forest lands. The landless Tribals (Aadivasis) occupying forest lands claim for regularization of their possession in terms of instructions issued by the Government. SC directed the State to appoint responsible officers to examine claims who are in possession of such lands and decide their claims for regularization.
Protecting the interest of Tribals Madras HC has held that mere payment of compensation for the land acquired in the tribal areas without taking such factors into consideration was not enough to avoid social disorganisation and economic destitution of the affected tribals. Such social disorganisation and economic destitution of the affected tribals created conditions of discontent and unrest in the scheduled areas. The flora and fauna in tribal areas which help the tribal economy should not be disturbed. Clearance of Tribal Welfare Department of the State shall be taken before taking up any schemes in the tribal areas of the State. No new Irrigation Schemes should be taken up, areas where there will be submergence of tribal land. In such cases, construction of major and medium irrigation projects shall be avoided to the extent possible and small check dams, lift-irrigation schemes etc., should be taken up. Comprehensive directions were issued by the Court.
Andhra Pradesh HC has held that the conservation of forests includes both preservation and re-afforestation Forests have to be regular cut to meet the needs of the country. At the same time re-afforestation should go on to place the vanishing forest.
Jammu & Kashmir HC has held that for the removal from the State of any trees that had been cut sanction is necessary. HC directed the Chief Secretary of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to ensure strict and faithful compliance with this order. In addition, the Court stated that the order operated despite any license/permit granted by any authority, or any order made by any court in the country.