T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union Of India & Ors on 12 March, 2014
T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union Of India & Ors on 12 March, 2014
Writ Petition was filed as a PIL under Article 32 of the Constitution of India for and on behalf of the people living in and around the Nilgiri Forest on the Western Ghats. The petitioner sought to challenge the legality and the validity of the actions of the State of Tamil Nadu, the Collector, Nilgiris District and the District Forest Officer, Gudalur and the Timber Committee represented through the Collector, Nilgiris (Respondent Nos. 2 to 5 respectively), in destroying the tropical rain forest in the Gudalur and Nilgiri areas in violation of the Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and Tamil Nadu Hill Stations Preservation of Trees Act and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. This, according to the petitioner, has resulted in serious ecological imbalances affecting lives and livelihood of the people living in the State of Tamil Nadu. The petitioner has highlighted that the respondents have in collusion with certain vested interests allowed trespassers to encroach and enter upon the forest land for the purpose of felling trees and conversion of forest land into plantations. It was pointed out that the encroachers on the forest land have been indiscriminately cutting and removing valuable Rosewood trees, Teak trees and Ayni trees, which are immensely valuable and are found exclusively in the aforesaid forest. It was pointed out that loss of such trees would be permanent and irreparable to the present and future generations to come. The petitioner has clearly pleaded that the value attached to Rosewood and Teak wood has resulted in a mad rush by timber contractors in collusion with Government agencies, for making quick profits without any regard to the permanent damage and destruction caused to the rain forest and to the eco-system of the region. The petitioner also pointed out that cutting and removing of trees is not limited only to the mature trees. In their anxiety to make huge profits the entire forest areas are being cleared, by indiscriminate felling of trees. The petitioner also pointed out that the national policy adopted in the year 1952 provided for the protection and preservation of forests. The existence of large areas of land covered under forest is recognized as a valuable segment of the national heritage. The petitioner also pointed out that the protection from exploitation of forests, in particular natural forests, is imperative as such forests once destroyed can not be regenerated to their natural state. The petitioner has pleaded that the destruction of rain forests would adversely affect the environment, eco-system, the plants and animals living within the forests. This would result in such destruction, which would ultimately result in drastic changes in the environment and the quality of life of people living in and around the forests. The petitioner also highlighted that although the national policy has provided that 33% of the land mass of India shall be covered with forests, the present extent of the forest covered areas was below 15%. The natural rain forest cover was only around 5%. Such meager forest cover had led to the enactment of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Apart from pointing out the provisions of the aforesaid Act, the petitioner also protested that the population living in the areas mentioned above is being deprived of the right to live in a clean and pollution free environment and, therefore, their fundamental rights protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India are being violated. The petitioner pointed out that the preservation and protection of forests is recognized as essential for maintaining a clean and pollution free environment. He further pointed out that the rain forests, which are found only in the southern part of the Western Ghats contain several rarest species of plants and animals and also the main source of water supply to the rivers flowing from the Ghats. The large scale denuding of the green cover on the Western Ghats has resulted in shortage of water in the rivers and has adversely affected the people living on the water flowing from the rivers. This apart, it was pointed out that forests are the main source of livelihood for a large number of people, who live within and around the forests. It was also pointed out that the rain forests are the source of life and the plants and animals contained within it are useful for enhanced quality of life enjoyed by mankind. The bio-diversity of the rain forest, it was emphasized, has to be preserved for the welfare and well being of future generations of mankind. The petitioner was constrained to move this Court in the present writ petition being so perturbed by the large scale destruction of the forests and other natural resources found in the three States namely Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. It was lamented that all the protective legislation enacted by Union of India are nothing more than statements in the statute books, in as much as the forest land and its wealth are being plundered everyday. He pointed out that it can no longer be denied that well organized rackets exist between the forests authorities, timber contractors and the local authorities which are facilitating the cutting and removal of trees and timber in gross violation of Forests Conservation Act. The petitioner has given details of the manner in which individuals, contractors and firms were clandestinely permitted to trespass and plunder the forest area for the invaluable Rosewood trees. It was stated that each tree commands a price of Rs.15 to 20 Lakhs in the market. When all the efforts of all the concerned individuals, NGOs and other social activists failed, the petitioners were constrained to knock on the doors of this Court by way of writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.
Understandably disturbed by the horrendous fact situation narrated in the writ petition, the Supreme Court issued notice to not only the concerned States but also to other States. Thereafter, the writ petition is pending. On 29th October, 2002, the Supreme Court considered I.A. No. 566, in which this Court had taken suo-moto notice on the Statement of Mr. K.N. Rawal, Additional Solicitor General to the effect that the amount collected by various States from the user agencies to whom permissions were granted for using forest land for non-forest purposes, was not being utilized for such compensatory afforestation. There was a consensus among the States and the Union Territories that such a fund be created. It was also recommended that the funds should not be a part of general revenues of the Union or all the States or of the Consolidated Funds of India. The CEC Report also contemplated the involvement of user-agencies for Compensatory Afforestation. The CEC in its report dated 5th September, 2002 made eight recommendations which were accepted by the Union of India in an affidavit filed in response to the aforesaid report. The Union of India further stated, in the affidavit, that major institutional reorganization of the present mechanism has to be undertaken. Keeping in view the aforesaid representation, the MoEF issued a notification on 23rd April, 2004 constituting a “Compensatory Afforestation Funds Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA)” as an authority under Section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. This notification provides that there shall be a governing body. Minister of Environment and Forests, Government of India is the Chairman. After detailed examination of the issues related to the payment of Net Present Value (NPV) and Compensatory Afforestation Fund, the Court upheld the constitutional validity of the payment to CAMPA under the notification dated 23rd April, 2004. It was held that the payment of NPV is for the protection of environment. It was further held that the natural resources are not the ownership of any one State or individual, public at large is its beneficiary. Therefore, the contention that the amount of NPV shall be made over to the State Government was rejected.
The Supreme Court by order dated 28th March, 2008 had fixed the rates at which NPV is payable for the non-forestry uses of forest land falling in different Eco-classes and density sub-classes. The rates vary from Rs.10.43 lakh per hectare to Rs.4.38 lakh per hectare. For the use of forest land falling in the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, the NPV is payable at 10 times and 5 times respectively of the normal rates of NPV. The Supreme Court accepted a suggestion made by the CEC submitted in I.A. No.1473 for constitution of an Ad-hoc body till CAMPA becomes operational. By order dated 10th July, 2009 the Supreme Court directed that the guidelines and structure of the State CAMPA as prepared by MoEF may be notified and implemented. The State CAMPA has been constituted for each State/Union Territory. It has a three-tier structure. Applications had been filed by different States seeking release of some funds for completing the task of compulsory afforestation, as directed by this Court from time to time(10% of total amount). Writ Petition (C) No. 202 of 1995 has been filed by the State of Gujarat with the following prayer:- “i. To direct the Ad-hoc CAMPA to release minimum of 10% of principal amount deposited by the States/UTs with Ad-hoc CAMPA and the total amount accrued as interest on such deposits to the respective State/UT’s including to the State of Gujarat without the ceiling of Rs.1,000 crore, in order to ensure effective and timely implementation of Compensatory Afforestation Scheme, Wildlife Conservation and other Forest conservation and Protection Measures as envisaged in the CAMPA guidelines. Some facts and figures shown by the counsel for the states, suggested that due to release of insufficient CAMPA funds, all the NPV Projects approved by the Steering Committee could not be started. In response to the application filed by the State of Gujarat, this Court by order dated 9th December, 2013 had directed the CEC to submit its report. The CEC in it's report said "The CEC, in the above background, recommends that this Hon'ble Court may in partial modification of its earlier order dated 10th July, 2009 consider permitting the Ad-hoc CAMPA to annually release from the financial year 2014-2015 onwards, out of the interest received / receivable by it, an amount equal to 10% of the principle (sic) amount lying to the credit of each of the State / UT at beginning of the year to the respective State CAMPA subject to some conditions"
These guidelines will be strictly followed by the State CAMPA. The same shall be treated as directions of this Court. The order dated 10th July, 2009 is modified accordingly.
The Hon'ble Supreme court heard the petitioner and directed guidelines to be followed for solving the said problems mentioned by the petitioner.
The Ad-hoc CAMPA is permitted to release annual amount equal to 10% of the principal amount lying to the credit of each State/Union Territory, out of the interest receivable by it with effect from financial year 2014-2015 onwards. The release of the aforesaid funds shall be subjected to the conditions enumerated above.
It is further directed that no money out of the amounts available with Ad-hoc CAMPA will be transferred or utilized without the leave of this Court. It is further directed that the National CAMPA Advisory Council will file a Status Report within a period of three months regarding the monitoring and evaluation of the works being undertaken, by utilizing the funds released by CAMPA. The Interlocutory Applications are disposed of with the aforesaid directions.