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Like Forests? Want Timber? Well, India Law Loves The Forest Too!

Law is nothing but a command from the sovereign telling people what to do and what not to do. It is imperative direction binding on every citizen which the courts are obliged to enforce. In fact, every human activity from cradle to the grave is regulated by one or other of the laws.

Thus when a child is born, his birth is required to be registered in accordance with law. Thereafter, his education, his marriage and his services are all governed by different laws. Law plays an important role in the social and economic development of every country. So far the ‘forests’ and matters connected therewith are concerned, they involve complex issues and therefore, law has to play a greater role in their management , protection and preservation.

Laws Relating To Indian Forests

We are all aware that according to the Indian Constitution, the Parliament as well as the State Legislatures(both) are competent to make laws relating to Forests, with the condition that in case of inconsistency between the two, the Central Law shall prevail.

Thus, the two Governments have the following important laws :

(a) The Indian Forests Act, 1927

(b) The Uttar Pradesh Private Forests Act, 1948

It may be mentioned that when India became independent in August 1947, there were more than 500 Rajas and Maharajas scattered from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

There Rulers owned extensive forest lands, and they used to sell their forest produce for their personal advantage. Not only this, they used to organize hunting of wild animals on a large scale.

In order to end this menace, the then Home Minister(Sardar Patel) held long negotiations with the aforesaid Rulers, and ultimately, the following arrangements were arrived at :

(a) That the Rajas and Maharajas would relinguish their ownership rights over the forests and other properties in favour of the Government;

(b) The Government would pay a fixed amount(called Privy Purse) to the said

rulers every year as a consideration therefor.

The above agreement was entered into under the Law of Contract. It is another matter that when Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister, she abolished the Privy Purse by amending the Constitution. Thus, thousands of acres of valuable forest land overnight became the property of the Government. This was nothing but the majesty of law. Those who lost their forest property in Uttar Pradesh included Maharaja of Balrampur, Nawab of Rampur, Rajas of Tehri and Benaras.

It is noteworthy that the territories over which the Rajas and Maharajas used to rule, were outside the limits of British India. So far the British India was concerned, there were a large number of zamindars and Jagirdars who also owned vast tracts of forest lands as their private properties. In order to protect and preserve their forests and in order to boost the country’s wealth, it was decided to abolish the zamindari system prevailing in the country for several hundred years.

Thus, in or around 1950, the various State Governments in the country passed zamindari Abolition Laws, paying nominal compensation to the earstwhile owners. The Government of Uttar Pradesh also enacted the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950, where under all the forest land and other estates belonging to the zamindars were made to vest in the Government.

It would thus be evident that laws have played a prominent role in the preservation, protection and coverage of forests in the country including the State of Uttar Pradesh.

Uttar Pradesh Private Forests Act, 1948

The above law was enacted by the U.P. Legislature for the purposes of :

(a) Conserving Private Forests and Groves;

(b) Afforestation of waste lands in the State

The salient features of the above Act are as follows :

  • The Act gives a wider definition of ‘forest’ so as to mean any land which the State Government may declare to be a forest for the purposes of the said Act.

  • The above Act would not be applicable to the following lands:-

  1. Any land belonging to the Government

  2. Any land to which the Indian Forest Act, 1927, is applicable

It would thus be clear that the aforesaid Act shall apply only to the forests owned by private persons, provided the Government makes a declaration to that effect.

  • Under the above Act, the State Government shall have the following powers in respect of the private forests:-

  • It may prohibit the cutting of trees

  • No person shall be allowed to cut, collect or remove any tree, fuel or timber, except under a permit issued by the Forest Officer

  • Forest Officer

  • No person shall have any customary right of pasture in any land

  • If any privately owned wasteland(measuring 50 acres or more) is lying uncultivated for more than 7 years and the owner thereof is not willing to cultivate it or use it for horticultural purposes, then the State Government may declare it as a Vested Forest.

The control and management of such Vested Forest shall then vest in the State Government. The salient features of the above Act are as follows: role in maintaining forest cover in the State of Uttar Pradesh.

Some Suggestions For The Future

The Indian Forest Act, 1927, was enacted about 90 years back. Much water has flown down river Yamuna since then. It is, therefore, necessary that a new law is made by Parliament, keeping in view the progressive development of forests and matters connected therewith. The extensive denudation with hill sides and growing erosion of rivers like Yamuna, Chambel and Kosi deserve major consideration.

The National Forest Policy, 1952 had suggested that one third of the total land area of the country should be covered by forests. It should be checked whether this objective has been fully achieved, and if not, then what further steps should be undertaken to achieve the said target.

According to the daily Amar Ujala (Newspaper dated 14 November, 2016) an area measuring 13 lakh 84 thousand and 917 hectares of land has so far been declared as Reserve Forest in the State of U.P, but out of this area about 22% of the forest landremains in occupation of Land Mafia and other unauthorized occupants which is valued at rupees 1600 lakh crores. This is a serious matter and requires immediate attention by the Government.

Forest fires are a major hazard involving a loss of monumental magnitude. In 2015, a devastating fire broke out in Uttarakhand and a huge forest wealth was lost. Legal, financial and technological steps should be taken to avoid repetition in future.

Lastly it may be mentioned that the Government has remained undecisive regarding the private rights of scheduled tribes and other tribals who have traditionally been residing within or in the neighbourhood of the Forests.

On the one hand, the Government maintains that the rights of these forest dwellers should be duly recognized. On the contrary, it is argued that the national interest should not be sacrificed for the sake of private interest-Vide National Forest Policy,1952. The above Tribals have built their houses inside the forests. They cook food and use lanterns during night. There activities are a source of danger to the forest culture. Hence, it is necessary that a clear cut policy should be evolved to avoid any risk to the forests.

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