Judge says it had issued positive directions regarding unlicensed saw mills

The Madras High Court Bench here on Wednesday criticised the State Government for “throwing to the winds,” a 2002 Supreme Court directive to crack down on unlicensed saw mills for over eight years until the framing of Tamil Nadu Regulation of Wood Based Industries Rules last year.

Justice V. Ramasubramanian pointed out that the High Court too had also unwittingly been a party to the violation of the Supreme Court orders as it had issued positive directions in many cases to restore electricity supply to the unlicensed saw mills as and when they filed writ petitions.

“The strong dictate of the Supreme Court has been thoroughly ignored both by the saw mill owners and the State authorities. What is painful is the fact that in a few cases, the violation of the orders of the Supreme Court, has actually received the blessings of this court in the form of positive directions… Therefore, there is no point in just blaming the statutory authorities,” the judge said.

The observations were made while dismissing a batch of writ petitions filed by owners of seven saw mills in Ramanathapuram and Sivaganga districts challenging either disconnection of electricity supply to their mills or the direction issued by the respective District Forest Officers to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board to disconnect their service connections last year.

The judge recalled that the SC had ordered on October 29, 2002 that no State should permit any unlicensed saw-mill, veneer or plywood industry to operate and to ensure that all such unlicensed units were closed down forthwith. It was also made clear that no new saw-mill must be allowed to be opened without prior permission of a Central Empowered Committee (CEC).

Despite the directive, all the present petitioners had started their mills only after the apex court order and without a proper licence from the CEC. “What emboldened them to do so was the fact that unfortunately, the State did not take any steps either to order the closure of the existing saw mills or to issue rules for regulating the saw mill industry. The prohibitory order of the Supreme Court was in the cold storage of the Government for five years without any action,” the judge said and added that the Chief Secretary appeared to have sent a letter to other departments only on March 26, 2007 urging them to pursue necessary action to ensure strict compliance of the Supreme Court orders. Thereafter, the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Wood Based Industries Rules, 2010 came into effect from October 21, 2010. “Ultimately, it was only after issue of the aforesaid rules that the Forest Dept woke up from their slumber and started tightening the noose around the neck of these saw mills,” he added.