The Indian Forest Act is a consolidation of laws relating to forests, which aims to regulate forest produce, and enumerates the duty leviable on timber and other forest produces. The Act was first passed in 1865 and hence amended twice in 1878 and 1927. The act recognizes the different types of forests and lays down forest offenses and penalties for the same. Moreover, it aims to promote the conservation of forests and their usage in a sustainable manner. The Indian Forest Act of 1865 was set up by the Imperial Forest Department with the aim of declaring any trees or plantation-clad areas as government-protected forests. The amendment act of 1878 classified forests into three kinds for the first time: Protected forests, Village forests, and Reserved forests, and enabled the British administration to demarcate protected and reserved forests, by limiting forest utilization rights of locals. The final amendment of 1927 was primarily enacted to increase government control on the forests and eventually impacted those communities that were originally dependent on them.
The Indian Forest Act, 1927 identifies three kinds of forests as first declared in the 1878 amendment. The three kinds and their regulation rules as described in the original act are given hereunder:
1. Reserved Forests
According to Section 3 of the Act, The State government has the right to declare any wasteland, or forest-land, of which it is the owner or over which it has propriety rights as reserved forests. It also has the right to declare any forest produce to which it is entitled. As per Section 4, This declaration has to be done through a gazette notification. Moreover, after this notification, a forest settlement officer is supposed to declare a proclamation in nearby villages and towns about the acquisition. Under Section 5, Once a piece of land is declared reserved, no person has the right to acquire this land, except through succession or contract with the state government. Any individual who claims rights of the notified areas can specify the same with a written notice and appear before the forest settlement officer and the state.
Powers of forest-settlement officer
1. Power to enter by himself or any other authorized person, upon any land that the government is about to acquire
2. Power of civil court in the trial of suits
According to Section 10, If an individual claims the right to shifting agriculture over a piece of land, the forest settlement officer will record a statement setting forth the claims to the state government. These claims will be subject to approval or disapproval of the state government. If they are approved, the forest settlement officer shall arrange for its exercise. In case of a right to claim over any land other than by right of way, right of pasture, right to forest produce, or watercourse, the forest settlement officer has the right to reject these claims in whole or in part. And for this exercise, he may be deemed as a collector under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
Under Section 12, For any claim on the right to pasture or the right to forest produce, the forest settlement officer shall pass an order rejecting or accepting the same. When the forest settlement officer admits a claim under Section 12, he shall also specify in his record: the quality and quantity of forest produce, the number and season of cattle grazing on the pasture, and all other required information. Under Section 15, pass any order for maintenance and continued use of the claimed land. The forest-settlement officer also has the right to commute these rights and compensate the individual with money or grant of land in lieu of his right to land.
As per Section 17, any person may file an appeal for any dispute or grievance arising out of the above-mentioned sections before the revenue department or collector, which by notification in the e-gazette could be approved by the state government and be heard in the court of law. Each of these appeals has to be a written petition forwarded to the forest settlement officer who shall further pass it on to the competent authority.
According to Section 20, when the above-mentioned process of allocation, acquisition, and appeal has been completed and there is a definite demarcated boundary to be called as a reserved forest, the state government shall notify the same in e-gazette, the same has to be notified to other neighboring forests and villages in vernacular language. The state government also has the right to revise any arrangement made under Sections 15 and 18, within a period of 5 years.
Section 26 prohibits certain acts under such notified reserved forests, these are:
i. Set fire to a reserved forest, kindle fire or leave burning leaves so as to endanger the forest except for such times when asked by the forest settlement officer.
ii. Trespass or pasture cattle.
iii. Cause damage by the negligence of felling trees or dragging timber.
iv. Clear or break up any land for cultivation or any other purpose.
v. Soot, the fish, set up traps or poison water.
vi. Kill or catch elephants in contravention to any rules, where Elephant Preservation Act, 1879 is not in force.
Lastly, the state government also has the power to declare any forest no more a reserved forest by notification in the e-gazette.
2. Village Forests
The state government may assign rights to a village community over a reserved forest, and hence these may be called village forests. All provisions of this act shall be applicable to village forests.
3. Protected Forests
The state government may, by notification, declare as ‘protected forests’, any wasteland or forest-land, which is not a reserved forest. But over which the government has proprietary rights or which is the property of the government, or if the government is entitled to whole or any part of the forest produces.
According to Section 30, the state government may declare any class of trees as reserved from a fixed period of time in a protected forest. It can also declare that such a portion of the forest shall be closed for a term not exceeding 30 years and any collection of material for the manufacturing process shall be prohibited. This exercise is only undertaken when the remainder of the forest is sufficient for the convenience of the locals.
Rules and Penalties: (Section 32 and 33)
In a protected forest, the state government has the power to make rules in terms of (Section 32)-
i. Cutting and removal of forest produce
ii. Granting a license to inhabitants for the use of forest produce
iii. Granting a license for felling of trees and other forests produce for the purpose of trade
iv. Examination of forest produce
v. Clearing of land for cultivation and other purposes
vi. Protection from fire, of timber lying in such forests
vii. Cutting of grass and pasturing of cattle
viii. Protection and management of any portion of the forest
ix. Hunting, shooting, fishing, setting traps, poisoning water, and killing elephants.
Any person who commits the following acts shall be punishable with a term which may extend to six years or a fine of five hundred rupees or both: (Section 33)
i. Fell or damage any tree or class of trees that are declared reserved
ii. Burning fire kindled in the vicinity of such forest to endanger the forest
iii. Permit cattle to damage any tree
iv. Clears any portion of land for cultivation without permission
v. Quarries stone, bums lime, or charcoal for the purpose of manufacturing, without any permission
Control over forest or land not being the property of Government
The statement government may issue regulations for the protection of forests for special purposes, under Section 35 of the Indian Forest Act 1927. These special purposes could be clearing of land for cultivation, pasturing of cattle, clearing the vegetation, protection against natural calamities such as avalanches, floods, rolling stones, etc, protection against landslides, soil erosion, and formation of ravines and torrents, preservation of public health and protection of roads, bridges, etc.
Section 36, gives the state government the right to assume management of forests, in case of any neglect or willful disobedience, the state government may transfer the responsibility of the land to the forest officer.
Duty on timber and other forest produce
The central government has the right to levy any duty as per ad valorem (value of the produce) on all timber or forest produce that is produced within the territories defined under the act.
Control of timber and any forest produce in transit
The state government has the right to control all rivers and their banks, and land in regards to floating timber or forest produce transit. It is also entitled to make rules and regulations in relation to the transit. It may make rules in regards to (Provided under section 41).
i. Routes from which timber or produce may transit within the state
ii. Prohibit the import or export of such produce
iii. Provide for the stoppage, reporting, and examination of timber
iv. Establish depots where the examination of products may take place
v. Prohibit closure of rivers and banks where such transit takes place and also prohibit throwing grass, bushes, etc into these rivers.
Penalties for violation of rules enumerated in Section 41 is the term of six months or a fine of five hundred rupees or both.
Collection of drift and stranded timber
Any timber that is stranded, sunk, or has unregistered marks shall be the property of the government by notification, it shall be deposited at the depot by the forest officer. A notice describing the quality of the timber shall be issued for the owner to claim the timber within a period of two (2) months. Any claim hence received can either be rejected or approved by the forest officer, in case a claim is made by more than one individual, it shall be decided by the civil courts. On rejection of a claim by the forest officer, the individual has the option to institute a suit for his claim, within three (3) months of rejection.
Penalties and Procedures
Section 52 to 69 enumerates the penalties and procedures under the Indian Forest Act 1927.
Section 52 provides that any property, forest produce, or tools that have reason to believe to be subject to any violation can be seized by the forest officer.
Section 53 provides that any officer not below the rank of a ranger may release the seized property or may produce the defaulter in front of the magistrate.
Section 54 states that the magistrate may take any appropriate step towards the seizure, which could be arrest or trial.
Under Section 57, if the owner of the seized property is not to be found, the magistrate may within one month of the seizure, allot the property to the forest officer or any person she may deem entitled to the property.
Under Section 58, if the seized property is of perishable nature, the magistrate may order its sale, if the owner cannot be found.
Section 62, rightly enumerates that if a forest officer or subordinate, wrongfully seized any property she may be subject to imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of five hundred rupees or both.
Section 63, states that any person who counterfeits any timber or tree mark, used by the government, alters or obliterates this mark, and alters or obliterates a defined boundary shall be punished with a term of up to two years or fine or both.
Section 64 gives forest officers and police officers the power to arrest a person on suspicion of forest-related punishable offenses without a warrant. Also, under Section 66, any forest officer has the right to interfere, if he believes a punishable offense is being committed.
The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was later followed by other important legislation for forestry. These were Indian Forest Policy, 1592, Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and National Forest Policy, 1988. Under The Indian Forest Act, 1927, reserved forests are deemed to be protected the most in terms of degree, followed by protected forests and reserved forests.
This article has been written by Vanshika Arora, 1st Year B.A LL.B student at Army Institute of Law, Mohali.
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