Aarey Forest Case – All you need to know about Forest laws, management and division of forest land

Mumbai: People opposing the proposed felling of trees in Aarey colony stage a demonstration against Maharashtra Government's decision to build Metro Car Shed, Metro Bhavan and cutting of 2,700 trees, in Mumbai on Sep 29, 2019. (Photo: IANS)

Aarey colony, popularly known as the Green Lung of Mumbai is a suburban located in Goregaon. This lovely region has more than five lakh trees combining the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. While a project for the construction of a new car shed is on the way, a lot of trees are being cut to give room for the said metro project. Protesters are organizing demonstrations and pressing the government in different ways with demands that the cutting of the trees must be stopped. A special bench of the Supreme Court is presently hearing a case related to this.

Court proceedings - The story so far

The special bench was formed after a few law students made a request to the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi pressing for the topmost court’s intervention in this issue and stop the cutting of trees with immediate effect. This important move happens one day after the Bombay High Court rejecting an application by the environmentalists asking for a stay on the cutting of trees. Meanwhile, the High Court had also rejected a few petitions that sought to change the Mumbai Civic Body’s tree committee order that approved the cutting of trees in the Aarey colony to create space for the Mumbai Metro’s car shed in the area.

Understanding forests in India as per laws

Reserved forests and protected forests in India refer to the term forests that have been accorded a certain degree of protection. This term was first introduced in 1927 in British India to refer to the forests that were given protection under the British crown in India. Land rights to the reserved and protected forests are owned by the Government of India. The state governments declare the reserved forests and protected forests. While all rights to activities like grazing and hunting are banned in reserved forests unless there are some specific orders, in case of protected areas, these rights are given to the communities inhabiting on the forest fringes whose livelihood depends on the forest products and resources.

Forest Management in India

In India, the state and also the national governments are jointly responsible for managing the forest resources in a sustainable manner. The Indian Forest Act 1927 empowers the State Governments in India to enact rules to regulate the various aspects of managing forests. The forest rules can differ from state to state. The Indian Forest Act of 1927 is the legislation that guides the policies, rules and regulations related to the forests. This law defines the procedure under which the state government can declare an area as a Reserved Forest, a Village Forest or a protected forest.

Diversion of forest lands for other purposes

The forest conservation act requires that the prior approval by the central government is essential for diverting the forest areas for the non-forestry purposes. Diversion of forestry areas for developmental projects is allowed only on grounds of some irrigation projects, transmission lines, defense related projects, railways, roads, power projects, and mining. The act also makes it mandatory to undertake afforestation in compensation of diverting the forest area for the said purpose. Also, the law states efforts must be taken to plan for catchment and treatment, conserving bio-life and wild life, rehabilitation and others and the reports of the efforts taken must be submitted to the state authority.

See Also: Supreme Court tells Mumbai Metro not to cut any more trees in Aarey

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