Some 370 million years ago the first amphibians and the first forests appeared on the earth. Encyclopaedic information reveals that at one time bands of forests stretched around the world. But with the spread of human, the picture changed. Tropical forests are most under threat of destruction. More than half the world’s tropical forests have been destroyed in the last 50 years starting from about 1945. The rate of forest loss in Asia is estimated at 1.2 per annum during 1981-90, as estimated by the FAO. This destruction has led to a huge increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, while the soil is degraded and eroded.
With increased agricultural and commercial activity, there is increasing demand for trees. This leads to systematic destruction of forest. Wood based industry demands greater supply of trees, leading to destruction of forest.
Preserving forests is part and parcel of environmental protection, which is the need of the present day industrialized world. The legislative and judicial response in this field needs examination to find out the effectiveness of its roles. Such examination will enable to find out where the fault lies and to suggest remedies.
Mining and innumerable other causes result in destruction of forest. Natural calamity like forest-fire also leads to its destruction. While such destruction takes toll of forest at rapid pace, the re-forestation does not keep pace with it. This has lead to the imbalance in the ecology. It is unfortunately continuing. This should be the concern of all of us.
Forest is the natural wealth. No one can deny its need to be preserved. Destroying forest is easy; but growing it takes decades. Preserving forests is therefore of utmost importance. Environmental law covers preservation of forests as its important wing.
Safeguarding the forests and wild life of the country is the duty entrusted to the State as per Article 48A of the Directive Principles of the State Policy in the Constitution of India.
It is the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life as envisaged by Article 51 A of the Constitution.
With colonization of India, came western culture and commercial activities. Industrialisation began to spread. It is widely accepted that with the advent of British rule the process of deforestation of this country began. Meeting the industrial needs of their home country being the primary aim of the colonizers, the natural resources of this country, including the forest, came to be denuded. Indian Forest Act of 1878 was the legislation, which attempted to control forests by formation of reserved forests.
In 1894 the British Government in India reviewed its forest policy. Amongst others it laid down that the forests, which are the reservoirs of valuable timbers, should be managed on commercial lines as source of revenue to the State. The then policy emphasized the commercial use of forest.
After independence, the Government of India introduced the national Forest Policy of 1952. More or less the British Policy of the commercial use of the forest was continued under this Policy. But the National Forest Policy of 1988 revised this.
The 1988 Policy, presented in the Parliament, recognized the fact that over the years the forest in this country suffered serious depletion. This was attributed to the relentless pressure arising from ever-increasing demand for fuel wood, fodder and timber, and the inadequacy of protective measures. It was recognised that there was tendency to look upon forests as revenue earning source. The Government felt the need to review the situation and to evolve, for the future, a new strategy of forest conservation, which became imperative.
The Legislative measures which existed during British regime were:
I.Indian Forest Act, 1878;
ii.Madras Forest Act, 1882;
iii.Indian Forest Act, 1927.
The Indian Forest Act 1927 continues to be in force, with state amendments made to it in several States in India. The Central Government has also enacted the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Some unique features of the Indian Forest act are as follows:-
1. Under this Act the Government could form reserve forests, village forests, and protected forests. Section 3 of the Act empowered the Government to declare any forest-land or waste land belonging to the State as a reserved forest.
For this purpose notification may be issued by the Government, declaring its intention to constitute the reserve forest and specifying the situation and limits of such land, and appointing forest settlement officer to enquire into and to determine rights of any person in or over the land comprised within such notified area.
2. In consequence, none will acquire any rights in or over reserve forest. No one can make fresh clearings in that forest. Setting fire to the reserve forest is prohibited. None can trespass even for pasture of cattle. Felling or cutting trees in the forest area is prohibited. Quarrying stone etc is barred. Removing any forest-produce is not permitted. Hunting and catching elephants are barred. All prohibited acts are made punishable, for the purpose of effective control. It may be noted that the formation of reserve forest and its safety are well taken care by the law, provided the authorities effectively enforce it.
The Indian Forest Act thus contains provisions to retain and grow forests in the country. Effectiveness of its implementation is all that matters.
Ever since the 1980′s, after the Supreme Court began actively to consider the cases relating to environment, leaving aside the formalities of litigation, the judiciary in India has responded pro-actively towards environmental problems.
Some of the cases would be State of Bihar Vs. Banshi Ram Modi,(AIR 1985 SC 814), Goa Foundation vs. Konkan Railway,( AIR 1992 Bom 471), Golden Granites vs. K.V. Shanmugam, (AIR 1998 Madras 150) etc.
Through these and other similar cases, Judiciary had to deal with cases involving conflict between need to preserve forests and the need for developmental activities.
But in most of the cases, the Supreme Court and High Courts emphasised the need to preserve forests, as against the need of industry.
It is of no doubt that there are quite a number of legislation in India regarding forests, its conservation and preservation. It is also worth mentioning that the judiciary have also ruled for the conservation and its need. But still in India, there are lots of deforestation activities going on as well as cutting down of trees; and until and unless the government wakes up and takes up some serious steps for the proper enforcement of the laws, rules and regulations; our dream for a greener tomorrow will remain unfulfilled.
Adhideb Bhattacharya & Ankit Shrivastav
Students, 4th Year, B.A.LL.B.(Hons.) ,University of Petroleum & Energy Studies, Dehradun
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]