Chennai: Observing that economic development should not be at the cost of complete degradation of forest or the environment and eco-system provided by the green area of the forest, the Madras HC has rejected the plea of 26 individuals and companies allegedly in possession of forest land in the Nilgiris district, to grant ryotwari patta to them. A division bench, comprising justices V. Dhanapalan (since retired) and G. Chockalingam, however, allowed the filed by the state against the orders of the district court-cum-janmam estates abolition tribunal, which confirmed the orders of the assistant settlement officer (ASO), granting ryotwari patta to a company.
“It is an undisputed fact that the forest in our country is an important and vital component to sustain the life support system on this planet and for various reasons, our forest is being slowly depleted. At the same time, as part of our development activities, some areas of the forest have to be used for non-forest purposes. However, all ongoing non-forest activities in any forest in any state throughout the country without the approval of the Centre must get ceased forthwith. Every state government must promptly ensure the total cessation of all such activities forthwith,” the bench observed.
Allowing the state government’s appeal and dismissing the appeals filed by 26 individuals and companies, the court said, “In view of the discussion, the irresistible conclusion is that the individuals/companies are not entitled to the relief sought for in these appeals.“Accordingly, these appeals are liable to be dismissed, confirming the rejection of pattas.”The case of Koya Moideen and 25 other individuals and companies before the ASO was that the villages in question were taken over by government under the TN Gudalur Janmam Estates (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari Patta) Act. This was challenged before the government authorities and ultimately, respective lands were declared as forest.
Upon enquiry by the government officer, it revealed that the lands came into possession of the appellants by sale deeds/by legacy through inheritance and they had been paying the rent/land revenue to jenmi (land owner) until the Act came into force. The ASO concluded that the lands were not forest lands and granted patta to certain extent but rejected the claim of the appellants. Aggrieved, the government and the individuals/companies approached the tribunal, which confirmed ASO’s order. The present appeals were filed challenging it.