Land with long-duration crops not ecologically fragile: HC

In a judgement which will have far-reaching consequences, a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court has held that the land where crops of long duration such as tea, coffee are cultivated cannot be declared as ecologically fragile land under the Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act even if it is encircled by vested forests.

‘Not a forest’

The Bench comprising Justice P.B. Suresh Kumar and Justice C.S. Sudha while allowing an appeal against the order of the Tribunal for Ecologically Fragile Lands Cases in Kozhikode observed that "the land which is used principally for the cultivation of crops of long duration such as tea, coffee, rubber, pepper, cardamom, coconut, arecanut or cashew is not brought under the definition of “forest”, even if it is covered with naturally grown trees and undergrowth as in the case of a forest. A land which is not a forest does not, going by the definition, become an ecologically fragile land".

The court added that the scheme of the Act is that a land which otherwise possesses characteristics of a forest is liable to be excluded from the purview of the definition of forest, if it is used principally for cultivation of crops of long duration.

The court made the observations while allowing an appeal filed by S. Raveendranath Pai of Kannur and his sons against the order of the tribunal that upheld the government action in declaring 6.0720 hectares owned by them at Mananthavady in Wayanad as ecologically fragile land.

Vested forest all around

The court pointed out that it was clear from the report of the Advocate Commissioner that the predominant activity in the land was agriculture and that too, of crops of long duration mentioned in the Act. In the light of the finding, the views expressed by the tribunal that the notified land was encircled by vested forest on three sides, that the area was a wildlife habitat, that there are large number of indigenous trees in the notified land etc. were not of any significance.

The Divisional Forest Officer, North Wayanad, Mananthavady argued that the land was lying contiguous to the vested forests, that although there were cultivations of cardamom, coffee, pepper etc., it was an area with predominant natural vegetation which supported important endemic flora and fauna of Western Ghats and hence, liable to be declared as an ecologically fragile land.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2022 6:50:48 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/land-with-long-duration-crops-not-ecologically-fragile-hc/article65353699.ece