Congress hails Supreme Court order on forest definition, says INDIA bloc government will protect environment

SC directed the state governments and UTs to provide the details of the forest land within their jurisdiction to the Union government.

ByPTI

Published Feb 20, 2024 | 5:24 PMUpdatedFeb 20, 2024 | 5:24 PM

Supreme Court of India

The Congress on Tuesday, 20 February, hailed the Supreme Court’s interim order asking the states and Union Territories to act as per the definition of “forest” laid down by the top court in a 1996 judgement.

The party said it is committed to protecting forests and the environment when an INDIA bloc government was formed.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said that after the “electoral bonds scam”, the Supreme Court had stopped another set of “blatantly illegal and disastrous” Modi-government schemes.

Also Read: Supreme Court has failed to turn the wheel back in the electoral bonds case

Shares media report

Former environment minister Ramesh also tagged a media report on the Supreme Court directing that the dictionary meaning of “forest” be applied.

He also shared another media report on the amnesty window opened for just six months in March 2017 to clear projects in a novel “violation category” that became routine through a Union Environment Ministry notification in July 2021, and provided ex-post facto approval to over 100 projects till the Supreme Court stayed the notification in January this year.

“The prime minister wanted to make it easier to hand over India’s forests and pollute the environment, to benefit his corporate crony friends. So first, he changed the rules in 2017 so that projects that had violated their forest clearance could be legalised,” Ramesh alleged.

More than 100 projects of big corporates, including coal mines, factories and cement plants, were allowed to brazenly start work in violation of environmental clearances, he claimed.

Next, in 2023, the Modi government brought the Forest Conservation Amendment, which stripped protection from 2 lakh square kilometres of forests, he said.

‘Violation of Supreme Court judgement’

“This was in complete violation of a 1996 Supreme Court judgement. This amendment would have made it easy to divert ‘deemed forests’, as well as forests in the North East,” he claimed.

“Thankfully, the Supreme Court has stayed both of these illegal moves. It has stayed the illegal permissions given to projects violating their environmental clearance, and has ordered that the dictionary definition of a forest must be followed, as per its 1996 decision,” Ramesh said.

The Congress applauds this order, and commits to protecting India’s forests and environment when we form an INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) government, he added.

“One by one, the scams and frauds of the Modi government are being exposed in India’s highest court of law,” Ramesh alleged.

Also Read: SC seeks ballot papers, video of counting day of  Chandigarh mayoral polls  

The court order

Dealing with a batch of petitions challenging the amendments to the forest conservation law of 2023, a bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra on Monday directed the state governments and Union Territories to provide the details of the forest land within their jurisdiction to the Union government by 31 March.

In its interim order, the bench asked the states and Union Territories to act as per the definition of “forest” as laid down by the top court in the 1996 judgment in the case of TN Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union of India.

It noted that the process of identifying land recorded as forests in government records is going on as per the amended law.

The petitioners had alleged that the wide definition of “forest” in the apex court judgment has been narrowed under Section 1A inserted in the amended law. As per the amended law, land has to be either notified as a forest or specifically recorded as a forest in a government record to qualify as a “forest”.

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