Following protests from forest rights activists and environmentalists, the Naveen Patnaik government has changed a controversial circular issued in November last year that sought to undermine a landmark SC order defining forest.
In November last year, additional chief secretary of revenue and disaster management department Dr Taradatt in a circular to all revenue officials including tehsildars had said that if the Record of Rights(RoR) of a land does not recognise any land as forest, the same may be treated as non-forest land. The controversial circular interpreted that the provisions of Forest Conservation Act, 1980 would not be applicable to the land recorded as forest in the sabik (previous) RoR records, but subsequently classified as non-forest in the Hal (present) RoR published after 25.10.1980. The FC Act came into force on October 25, 1980.
In the same circular, Taradatt said only those lands filed in the affidavit of Orissa government before the Supreme Court in the TN Godavarman vs Union of India case (Civil Writ Petition case No 202/1995) can be treated as forest land and which are not included in the list may be treated as non-forest land.
But after protests by forest conservationists and a rebuttal by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the government two days ago issued another circular clarifying that even if the lands are not covered in the affidavit filed by Orissa government in the TN Godavarman vs Union of India case, but satisfies the description of forest, the same would be treated as forest. In the affidavit filed by the State, lands which were actually recorded as various kinds of forest in revenue records escaped the list erroneously.
Addl PCCF(Central) Tejinder Singh in Ministry of Environment and Forests in a letter to Orissa chief secretary JK Mohapatra in February this year had directed the State government to ensure that no non-forest activity is allowed in the land which has been changed from forest in sabik settlement to non-forest in Hal settlement after 25.10.1980 till the matter is decided by the Ministry.
“The additional chief secretary’s order was in direct conflict with the orders passed by the Supreme Court of India. By issuing such orders he wants to take out lands hitherto recorded as “forest” prior to 25.10.1980 in government records,” said Dr Biswajit Mohanty, former member of National Board for Wildlife.
Orissa has vast tracts of revenue forests or forests under the control of the revenue department also known as District Level Committee forest land, Khesra, Gramya Jungle, etc. Of the total area of 58,136 sq kms of forest area in the State, 31,786 sq. kms or nearly 55 % is under the control of State revenue department.
Though the Orissa Land Reforms Act, 1960 allowed the revenue officials to effect change in the classification of any land after following certain procedures and rules, thse powers were abrogated after 25.10.1980 when the FC Act came into force. As per the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, no forest land can be diverted for non forest use until approval of the Central Government is continued…