Tamil Nadu

PIL challenges amendment made to T.N. Forests Act

The Madras High Court on Tuesday sought the response of the State government to a public interest litigation petition which sought to declare the Tamil Nadu Preservation of Private Forests (Amendment) Act of 2011 as wholly arbitrary and capricious because it permits those who had purchased private forests without prior sale approval from an environmental committee to obtain post facto sanction from it.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu ordered notice to the State government on the PIL petition filed by T. Murugavel of Environment Monitoring and Action Initiating, a trust, which he said was founded in 2005 for restoring, maintaining and improving the environment.

The litigant said the Madras Preservation of Private Forests Act of 1949 was enacted to prevent indiscriminate destruction of private forests.

The Act applies to all forests situated in estates as defined in the Madras Estates Land Act of 1908 and also to private forests having a contiguous area exceeding two hectares which had been notified as a forest, under the Act, by the Collector concerned.

Section 2A of the Act also provides for constitution of a committee, under the chairmanship of the Collector, to grant permission for alienation of private forest land.

Further, Section 3(1)(a) prevents owners of private forests from selling, mortgaging, leasing out or alienating otherwise either the whole or any portion of the forest without the previous sanction of the committee. More importantly, Section 3(1)(b) declares, in no uncertain terms, that any alienation of forest, made without obtaining prior sanction of the committee, would be declared null and void, the petitioner said.

He pointed out that Sections 3 and 6 of the Act were challenged by rubber plantation owners from Kanniyakumari district but the High Court had upheld their validity after observing that Tamil Nadu had a forest cover of only 26% though the tree cover should be at least 33% to maintain ecological balance.

Then, the court had also observed that the Act was necessary to prevent forests from destruction.

However, in 2011, the law was amended by inserting Section 4A through which people who had purchased private forest lands, without the prior sanction of the committee, were allowed to retain it by obtaining post facto approval from the committee.

Such purchasers were also permitted to prefer an appeal to the State government if the committee happened to reject their application seeking approval.

Assailing the amendment, the petitioner said: “Section 4A is completely flawed and illogical. The provision enables a person who has committed an illegality by purchasing forest land in contravention of Section 3(1)(a) to apply to the committee… The effect of Section 4A is to permit the violator to retain the fruits of his illegality without spelling out the legal basis for such retention… The effect of Section 4A is to ratify an illegality.”

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 3:43:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/pil-challenges-amendment-made-to-tn-forests-act/article36600705.ece

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