Status quo to be maintained on deforestation of any further forest areas in Gadchiroli district: Bombay HC
A letter was sent by the Up-Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat, Dongargaon to the Senior most judge, High Court of Bombay at Nagpur seeking to prevent indiscriminate cutting of naturally grown forest trees undertaken by Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Limited for its replantation in the Wadsa Forest Division within the area of Desaiganj, Kurkheda, Armori and Vairagad in Gadchiroli District. The High Court took suo moto cognizance of the matter and directed that no tree felling shall take place in the said area. Further, the High Court directed the National Green Tribunal to hear the issue and in the meanwhile, directed to maintain status quo. HRLN represented the Up-Sarpanch at the NGT. After extensive hearing, the NGT directed that the status quo be continued until further directions. Date of the Ruling: November 27th 2017 Forum: High Court of Bombay at Nagpur Bench and National Green Tribunal, Western Zone, Pune Type of Forum: Environment and Forest Rights of communities Summary: That with a rapid increase in the pace of deforestation by Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd. at approximately one hectare per day in Compartment Nos. 83-A & 83-B and at approximately five hectares per day within the entire area of Desaiganj, Kurkheda, Armori and Vairagad of Wadsa Forest Division in Gadchiroli District, a letter dated 16.04.2016 was addressed by one Hiraman Garate to the Senior judge of High Court at Nagpur Bench expressing grievous concerns with respect to the on-going forest cutting, the economic inability of Mr. Garate and his community to file the petition and prayed to grant stay to action of handing over forest about 3000 ha. On 28.04.2016, the High Court took cognizance of the said letter, issued notice to respondents, appointed an amicus curiae, directed the learned amicus to file the petition in the proper format and granted an ad-interim relief by directing that no felling of trees shall be permitted in the area which is subject matter of present petition. That on 16.06.2016, High Court recorded the statement of Forest Department and FDCM that around 60,000 trees aged between 50 and 60 years in reserved forests are to be cut and new trees are to be planted. The order further records that the undertaking as per order dated 06.05.2016 has been obtained and the plan was permitted to be implemented. Consequent to this observation, the issue of desirability of transferring the PIL to the National Green Tribunal was discussed and the Hon’ble High Court directed the immediate transfer of this PIL to National Green Tribunal with a direction to the parties to maintain status quo in the meanwhile, till National Green Tribunal passes further orders. The matter was transferred to the NGT and Mr. Garate was being represented by HRLN before the NGT where after extensive hearing, NGT passed an order on 27.11.2017 directing that the status quo is to be continued till further orders. NGT is presently not functioning and FDCM has restarted the work, in complete contempt. Outcome: The NGT has prima facie understood the importance of community rights over the natural forests that are being deforested. Significance: Prima facie , the following issues are involved in the present case:
- The object of timber harvesting to extract wood for the purpose of revenue generation is bygone and in the name of re-plantation, environmental imbalance cannot be encouraged.
- The practice of harvesting existing forest for the purpose of re-plantation is against the objective, goal and purpose of National Forest Policy, 1988.
- That while transferring lands to FDCM, Respondent authorities have completely ignored forest rights of traditional communities/tribal groups such as the ownership, use, collection and disposal of minor forest produce, the right to hold and live in the forest land and right of access to biodiversity, among others, that are conferred upon the villagers/tribals under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, Panchayats (Extension of the Scheduled Area) Act, 1996 and Maharashtra Village Forest Rules, 2014.
- That FDCM has shown a meager success rate in replantation in thousands of barren lands in Gadchiroli District.
- That Condition No. 7 of the Brahmapuri Forest Working Plan states that no forests bearing naturally grown trees shall be felled for any purpose. The forests in areas of Desaiganj, Kurkheda, Armori and Vairagad of Wadsa Forest Division in Gadchiroli District Wadsa Forest Division comprise of only naturally grown forest trees.
- That the activities undertaken by FDCM are in violation of landmark orders directing protection of forests passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in I.A. No. 424 in W.P. (C) No. 202 of 1995 (Godavarman Thirumulpad v/s Union of India) and in Lafarge Umium Mining case.