Rubber Plantations in Kanyakumari are Private Forest

Madras High Court: Hearing writ petitions filed by Kanyakumari District Planters Association & other plantation owners wherein the common issue raised was the validity of the notification issued by the District Collector, Kanyakumari, declaring the lands owned by the appellants/petitioners as “Private Forests” under the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Preservation of Private Forests Act, 1949, the division bench comprising S.K Kaul C.J. and Sivagnanam J. dismissed the writ petitions while holding that the District Collector is the competent person to issue a declaration for the purposes of declaring a land as  Private Forest. The Court further emphasized that the provision of the 1949 Act should be strictly enforced in Kanyakumari District to preserve the environment and maintain the ecological balance.

The anchor of the arguments made by the appellants was that the lands being patta lands cannot be declared as forests as they are rubber plantations which are man made and are not spontaneous. The appellants represented by T.R. Rajagopal further contended that the district collector was not empowered to notify lands as private forests but should be declared by the committee. While the respondents argued that there were many private estates situated in the midst of forests as patta had been granted to private individuals inside the forest, which had led to encroachment on the forest land. They further contended that if private rubber plantation, estates and private forests inclusive of estate, are excluded from the purview of the 1949 Act, it may result in uncontrolled commercial exploitation leading to destruction of the entire biodiversity and eco-system of the forest and a setback for the object of the National Forest Policy.

The Court observed that the 1949 Act was enacted to prevent the indiscriminate destruction of private forest and referred to T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, (1997) 2 SCC 267, wherein it was held that the term ‘forest land’ will not only include forest as understood in the dictionary sense, but also any area recorded as forest in the Government record irrespective of the ownership and classification. The Court further held that patta lands could not be declared as Forest without any notice to the landowners, as it is clear that the Act would apply to private forests having a contiguous area exceeding two hectares, which may be declared by the Committee to be Forest. Also any kind of intervention with the impugned notifications would result in expansion of plantation areas, which are otherwise Forest and could lead to deforestation. [Kanyakumari District Planters Association v. State of Tamil Nadu, 2016 SCC OnLine Mad 1548 decided on 10/03/2016]

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