K.T. Sangameswaran

CHENNAI: The Madras High Court has said if claims are made for community rights or rights to forest land and applications are submitted under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, the process of verification of the claim could go on, but, before the certificate of title is issued, court orders should be obtained.

The First Bench, comprising Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justice Prabha Sridevan, said as regards felling of trees for diversion of forest land, the process should go on till the clearance of such development projects and the recommendation of the Gram Sabha were obtained. But, the court’s orders should be obtained before actual felling of trees.

The matter has been adjourned to be listed after vacation.

The case relates to a writ petition by V. Sambasivam of Choolaimedu, a retired Indian Forest Service officer, seeking to declare the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act illegal and unconstitutional. He contended that certain provisions of the impugned Act enabled the Centre to provide for diversion of forest land for certain facilities managed by the government. While ordering notice, the Bench directed authorities not to alienate any land by issuing patta or by any other manner pursuant to the provisions of the Act, particularly from out of the Reserved Areas.

Challenging this, an SLP was filed and on April 21, the Supreme Court granted liberty to the Centre to move the High Court for vacating or varying the order. Hence, the matter was listed again before the First Bench.

After hearing arguments by then Additional Solicitor-General, Mohan Parasaran, petitioner’s counsel, N.L.Rajah and counsel for the Adivasigal Kurumbas Munnetra Sangam, Nagasaila, the Bench said a perusal of the government guidelines showed that diversion of forest lands subject to certain conditions had been under the government’s consideration for some time.

However, in view of the petitioner’s apprehensions and the possible ecological abuse, it felt that pending disposal of the writ petition, a balance should be struck between the implementation of the policy and the Scheduled Tribes rights on the one hand and ecological balance and the issue of sustainable development on the other.