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Can't be uniform criteria for identifying forest areas: SC [Read Judgment]

By LAWSTREET NEWS NETWORK      30 January, 2024 11:40 AM      0 Comments
Can't be uniform criteria for identifying forest areas: SC

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has rejected a plea to define private forests area afresh in Goa, by holding that there cannot be uniform criteria for identifying forest areas across all states in the country.

A bench of Justices B R Gavai, Aravind Kumar and Prashant Kumar Mishra said each State possessed its distinctive geographical features, and as a result, the criteria may vary from one State to another.

"The application of criteria cannot be universally standardized across the country, as it is contingent upon the specific geography and geographical conditions prevalent in each State," the bench.

The apex court had rendered its judgment on January 24 on a plea by NGO Goa Foundation.

It also noted Goa is one of the smallest States in the country having geographical area of 3,702 sq km. As per the India State of Forest Report, 2017 published by FSI, the forest cover of Goa is 2,229 sq km, which is 60.21% of the total geographical area of the State and three times higher than the National Forest Cover at 21.54%.

The petitioner sought a direction for revisiting the criteria for identification of private forest/deemed forest on private lands in the State of Goa, by using the parameters used by Forest Survey of India (FSI) that is based on 0.1 density forest in an area of 1 (one) ha.

The bench, however, found no need for alteration of existing criteria for identifying private forests in Goa.

The court noted the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change guidelines, as well as the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, are clear and unambiguous, as they have exempted the application of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, on areas that are less than one hectare and where not more than 75 trees have to be cut.

The bench also pointed out the Supreme Court had on December  12, 1996 had expressly delegated the task of identifying forest areas to Expert Committees to be constituted by State Governments, thereby recognising that there can be no uniform criteria for such identification across the country.

The court, while referring to MoEF's notification, said, if the criteria i.e., the canopy density of 0.4 and minimum area of 5 ha is reduced to 0.1 and 1 ha as contended, respectively, it will result in the plantations of coconut, orchards, bamboo, palm, supari, cashew, etc, grown by farmers on their private lands into the category of ‘private forest’.

"This would also result in that even for a minor development on the concerned land, the permission of the Government under the FCA 1980, for the landholders, would become indispensable," the court said.

"It would be of necessity to note that none of the States have adopted the criteria proposed by the appellant, namely the 0.1 density criteria, as it would result in opening a pandora’s box, and it would result in all the States undertaking the task of reassessing the forest area all over again which has since been settled on the basis of existing criteria," the court added.

Read Judgment



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