Judicial shield for forests

Govts must balance development compulsions with the indispensable needs of conservation.

By The Financial Express. Read it here.


Last week, after hearing a matter concerning the degradation of the Aravalis in Haryana, an SC bench ruled that the land protected by the special orders issued under Section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) 1900 “have all the trappings of forests land” as covered by Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, or FCA. So, even though owners of private land classified as forests under various legally-accepted definition of forests could approach the state government for approval for non-forest use, the state government can’t, by itself, give such approval and must seek clearance from the Centre. The apex court thus directed the concerned authorities in Haryana to not only demolish illegal structures on the land under PLPA special orders, but also restore status quo ante through reforestation programmes. 

This should serve as a timely reminder to the government, both states and the Centre, on balancing the protection of the country’s forest wealth and development imperatives, especially as population pressures on resources is now projected to grow earlier than expected. The Haryana government needs to study the ruling carefully. Prioritising reckless urbanisation and development over environmental good, it had amended the PLPA in 2019 to allow construction on thousands of acres in ecologically-sensitive regions of the state. The SC came down hard on the state government just a day after the amendment, terming it ‘wilful adventurism’ and an “obnoxious and contemptuous” action. Had the Haryana amendment not been stayed by the apex court, it would have freed 80,000 acres or 50% of the Aravalis for construction.