The Judiciary will always protect the environment of the Nilgiris, said the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, Justice M.Yousuf Iqbal here on Tuesday.

He was presiding over a ‘Legal Awareness Programme on Forest Acts' for field level forest personnel organised by the Forest Department. Pointing out that illegal quarrying, which was totally destroying the ecology of the hill station, had been stopped by the High Court, he said that encroachments by private business people, who have put up resorts on the traditional passage of elephants, has also been taken up very seriously by the High Court in the name of Elephant Corridor case.

Under the Tamil Nadu Preservation of Private Forest Act, indiscriminate felling of trees is regulated in the hill areas. Forest related crimes are akin to, “stealing our own property in our own homes”. Lamenting that crimes such as killing of animals including elephants, tigers, leopards and deer are on the rise, he said that the forest officials should always be vigilant and duty conscious. It is the duty of the Forest Department to preserve the forests and wild animals.

Pointing out that the area under forests determines the amount of rainfall, supply of fresh oxygen etc., and the forests keep Global warming at bay, he said that only about 20.6 per cent of the land in the country is covered by forests. Forest conservation should be accorded high priority. The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 has been promulgated to confer certain rights on the tribes. Describing the process of identifying the beneficiaries as an ‘onerous and pious' duty, he said that no outsider should be declared as someone residing in the forest.

Adverting to the litigations in respect of the Act both for implementing its provisions and also not misusing it through indiscriminate claims, Mr. Justice Iqbal said, “considering this the High Court has allowed the process to go on but not to grant title”. He suggested that the Secretary, District Legal Services Authority, should be made a member of the district committee.

Forest officials should help the judiciary dispose of cases without much delay. The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests A.S. Balanathan who inaugurated the programme said that environmental and forest laws are becoming tougher and tougher. Underscoring the need to conserve natural resources, he said that periodical training for forest staff is necessary to function effectively and efficiently.

Owing to the conservation efforts in Tamil Nadu, the number of tigers has more than doubled in the past few years. From about 70 in 2001 it has gone up to about 120 in 2010. Acknowledging the role of the High Court in protecting the Elephant Corridor near Sigur, he said that despite odds it has been notified. Judge, High Court, Mr. Justice K. Venkataraman said that Government Pleaders should strive to stall unnecessary stay orders.

Judge, High Court, K.N. Basha said that in any Department honesty and integrity should be given maximum importance. The Special Government Pleader (Forests), High Court S.N. Kirubanandam said that the programme was the fifth of its kind in the State and they have helped bring down forest related litigation by about 25 per cent. The Conservator of Forests, Coimbatore V.T. Kandasamy proposed a vote of thanks.