Environment Must Prevail Over Other Rights, Forests Have To Be Preserved: Supreme Court

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The environment “must prevail” over other rights and forests must be preserved, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while hearing a matter which involved issues regarding forest and non-forest land in Haryana.

The top court stressed upon the need to preserve forests and said it is because of the strict interpretation and exposition by the top court that the forest cover is increasing.

“Environment is more important than your civil rights,” a bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar said, adding, “The environment must prevail over all other rights”.

The bench, also comprising Justices A S Oka and C T Ravikumar, was hearing the pleas which raised the issue regarding forest and non-forest land in reference to interplay between provisions of the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900, the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the land which forms part of development plan under the Faridabad Complex (Regulation and Development) Act, 1971.

The top court observed that the fulcrum is about forest and its existence so that it does not disappear because of acquisition of land.

It said town planning is “something materialistic approach” while issue of preservation of forest has a different approach which relates to environment.

“Forest has to be preserved,” the bench said, adding, “It is only because of strict interpretation and exposition by this court that the forest cover is increasing.” During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that the top court, while hearing the Faridabad’s Kant Enclave matter, was informed about certain amendments in the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900.

He said the top court had asked the state of Haryana on March 1, 2019 not to act without permission of the court under the amendment Act.

Mehta said the top court might had felt that because of the court’s judgement in the Kant Enclave matter, in which it had ordered demolition of certain unauthorised structures there saying they were built on forest land, this amendment was made.

The solicitor general said he had made it clear to the court on the next day that demolition in Kant Enclave as per the top court’s order will go ahead.

He referred to an application filed in that matter by Haryana and said the state has sought permission to act upon the Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Act 2019 after due publication in the official gazette.

Mehta said that application is pending before another bench which is seized of the main matter.

He told the top court that the state’s application can be dealt with by this bench so that the issue can be considered holistically.

“The difficulty is, in view of the continuance of the stay, it would be little handicap on my part to address your lordships on the PLPA because we have to rely upon the amendment,” Mehta said.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for some petitioners, told the bench that one of the prayers in the plea is that the amendment Act be implemented.

The bench noted that the petitioners are seeking certain reliefs and one of the incidental reliefs may have bearing on the direction issued by the top court on March 1, 2019.

“After hearing the Solicitor General and the counsel appearing for the writ petitioner in the present writ petition as also the amicus curiae …. we are of the considered view that the prayer made in IA (filed by Haryana) needs to be dealt with along with the prayers in the writ petition…which has been heard by a three-judge bench for quite some time..,” the bench observed.

“We order accordingly. Registry to do the needful,” it said.

The hearing in the matter would continue on Wednesday.

Haryana had last year filed an affidavit in the top court, which had earlier asked it to clearly state about the factual basis as to how the area has been first notified as forest area, be it under the Union enactment or the state enactment, as the case may be, and also related matters which can be taken into account for answering the controversy in issue.

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