SC extends green protection to forest land in Aravalli ranges | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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SC extends green protection to forest land in Aravalli ranges

ByAbraham Thomas, New Delhi
Jul 22, 2022 07:13 AM IST

Special orders under Section 4 of Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) are the restrictive provisions issued by the state government to prevent deforestation of a specified area that could lead to soil erosion.

The Supreme Court on Thursday held that all land covered by the special orders issued under Section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) in Haryana will be treated as forests and be entitled to protection under the 1980 Forest Conservation Act — a significant move towards protecting green-cover in a state where rampant and indiscriminate development threatens several forest-patches, including some in the vulnerable Aravalli ranges.

The court’s ruling will mean around 30,000 hectares across the Aravallis and Shivaliks in Haryana will be considered forest land.(Yogendra Kumar/HT file photo)
The court’s ruling will mean around 30,000 hectares across the Aravallis and Shivaliks in Haryana will be considered forest land.(Yogendra Kumar/HT file photo)

Special orders under Section 4 of PLPA are the restrictive provisions issued by the state government to prevent deforestation of a specified area that could lead to soil erosion.

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A bench, headed by justices AM Khanwilkar, shot down the Haryana government’s contention that PLPA has no connection with forests, and that the consequences of connecting the two would be disastrous because it would result in demolition of every building in 11 districts of Haryana, including Gurugram and Faridabad.

Terming the submissions “misleading and fallacious”, the bench, that also included justices AS Oka and CT Ravikumar, held that the land covered by the special orders issued under Section 4 of PLPA have all the trappings of forest lands within the meaning of Section 2 of the Forest Act. It further underlined that once a land is covered under Section 2 of the Forest Act, whether the special orders under Section 4 continue to be in force or not, it shall continue to remain forest land.

The court’s ruling will mean around 30,000 hectares across the Aravallis and Shivaliks in Haryana will be considered forest land. “Twenty-five years of Aravalli jurisprudence has been reaffirmed and further clarified by this order,” said Chetan Agarwal, a Gurugram-based environmentalist.

Reading the two provisions together, the top court ruled that the rationale behind issuance of special orders under Section 4 of PLPA makes it clear that such areas must be protected as forest.

Section 2 of the Forest Act imposes prohibitions on the de-reservation of forests or use of forest land for non-forest purposes without prior approval of the central government.

“When the state government is satisfied that deforestation of a forest area forming part of a larger area is likely to lead to erosion of soil, the power under Section 4 can be exercised. Therefore, it follows that the specific land in respect of which a special order under Section 4 of PLPA has been issued will have all the trappings of a forest governed by the Forest Act,” said the bench.

Thus, the court directed the state government to clear any non-forest activity from such land in three months and report compliance.

“All the concerned authorities shall take action to remove the remaining illegal structures standing on land covered by the special orders and used for non-forest activities on the said lands erected after October 25, 1980 (when the Forest Act came into force), without prior approval of the central government, and further to restore status quo ante including to undertake reforestation/afforestation programmes in right earnest,” added the judgment.

The bench considered a September 2018 judgment by a two-judge bench in the Kant Enclave matter which held all land under PLPA could be treated as forest. The Thursday verdict by the three-judge bench clarified that the previous judgment failed to closely examine of the scheme of Section 4 of PLPA and its legal effect in relation to Section 2 of the Forest Act.

It noted that while the land notified under the special orders of Section 4 of PLPA shall be forest lands, not all land under PLPA will ipso facto become forest lands within the meaning of the Forest Act.

The verdict came on a bunch of appeals filed by owners of banquet balls and commercial structures in and around village Anangpur who were served eviction notices as per August 18, 1992 notification notifying their land as forest land under Section 4 PLPA.

In October last year, the Haryana government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, saying that a total of 1,739,907 hectares of land across 22 districts, accounting for 39.35% of the geographical area in the state, will fall within the definition of forest as these lands have been notified under sections 3, 4 and 5 of PLPA. The state referred to the September 2018 judgment of the top court in the Kant Enclave case where PLPA land was treated to be forest land.

The state said that if this judgment was applied to the state, the whole of 11 districts — Gurugram, Faridabad, Palwal, Panchkula, Ambala, Yamunanagar, Rewari,Bhiwani, Charki Dadri, Mahendergarh, and Mewat — will require to be cleared of all structures. It prayed to the court that not all land under PLPA should be declared forest.

Partially rejecting the state government’s views and applying its judgment that forest is only land covered by special orders under Section 4 of PLPA, the bench noted that an area of 31,738 hectares, out of the total geographical area of 4,421,200 hectares can be considered as forest. In Gurugram, Section 4 special order applied to 6,821 hectares out of 125,800 hectares (5.4%) while in Faridabad, it extended to 5,611 hectares out of 74,100 hectares (7.5%).

“Hence, only about 7.1% of the total lands in 22 districts is covered by special orders issued under Sections 4 and 5 of PLPA,” the bench said.

Such land covered under Section 4 can see no commercial activity or non-forest use without the consent of the central government , the bench said. It directed the state government to demolish all structures after giving a hearing to the affected parties.

The verdict did not decide on land covered under Section 5 of PLPA which applies to notification of entire village or part of it, by leaving it to the state to decide this on a case-by-case basis.

In its judgment, the court also made a passing reference to a 2019 law passed by the Haryana assembly, amending PLPA by excluding certain land out of the ambit of PLPA notification for the purposes of construction. This law was stayed by the Supreme Court in a separate proceeding on March 2019, as it was seen to be an attempt by the state to override court orders on protecting forest lands.

“Prima facie, the 2019 Amendment Act enacted by the state legislature would be repugnant to and violative of Section 2 of the 1980 Forest Act... Whether the 2019 Amendment Act is given effect or not, it will not change the status of the land covered by the special orders under Section 4 of PLPA as the said lands possess all the trappings of a forest with effect from October 25, 1980,” the bench added.

The court, however, left the issue of lifting the stay on the 2019 law to the bench which passed the order.

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