T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union of India & Ors on 12 March, 1947
Godavarman has played an important role in preserving and protecting the environment, popularly known as “the Green Man”. He has led numerous legal disputes in the public interest litigation because he served to conservation ideas and the creation of harmony with nature. It is an area of national importance that has been attested with the help of many NGOs and private organizations. The Supreme Court has played the role of a catalyst in safeguarding environmental concerns by delivering several landmark judgments that started with absolute responsibility and now it consists of ideas that include the polluter can pay principle, sustainable improvement and the precautionary principle.
Facts of the Case
In the case of T. N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India & Ors, the Supreme Court has left the conventional role of interpreter of the law behind and has taken on several roles such as that of administrator, lawmaker and policymaker. This case is a historic milestone which is also referred to as the ‘the Forest Case in India’ because it is a judicial violation of the constitutional mandate whilst the Supreme Court took over this case. It is about the control and surveillance of Indian forests. Godavarman lodged a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India in 1995. The main objective of the petition was to protect and safeguard the Nilgiris forestland as it was being exploited by illegal timber activities through deforestation.
The most important highlight, in this case, was that it was about forest protection, followed by a detailed hearing regarding the National Forest Policy. These were considered interim directions that were needed in relevant matters. This was to examine the enforcement and implementation of forest laws and regulation among the subcontinent of India. The Supreme Court has issued guidelines for the sustainable use of forests and their resources. Additionally, told that it ought to incorporate a self-monitoring mechanism at an equivalent time. The Court was explicit that an implementation system should be shaped at the regional and state level. This was to manage the transportation of timber.
Godavarman Thirumulpad was severely criticized. This is about the public’s environmental rights, and it is also about the Court’s intervention. Intervention or encroachments of the Court can only be carried out when necessary. When the state fails to fulfil its obligations, judicial intervention occurs. Some of the most notable measures taken by the Court include prohibiting deforestation, regulation of the timber industry, the prohibition of mining in Kudremuk and Aravalis, and regulation of sawmills.
The most significant verdict on the concept of forest management is the imposition of a levy known as the Present Value on the use of forest land for non-forestry purposes, the establishment of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund or CAMPA, and hence the system of obtaining the prior approval of the Supreme Court for any commercial activity. For example, one man’s efforts to stop the destruction of the forests in Gudalur resulted in a decisive legal encroachment that has contributed significantly to the preservation of the forests. Godavarman Thirumulpad will remain in legal history as he has a prominent place in the hearts of conservationists.
Issues of the Case
- Does this violate the new interpretation of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act and forest land?
- Is it justifying the usage of timber for commercial purposes?
Critical Analysis of the Case
The problem of environmental degradation and further damage to resource-rich forests began with the increasing needs of people created by rapidly increasing industrialization, the migration of people from rural areas to cities, the demand for more land for cultivation, housing and other purposes due to overpopulation and other reasons. Large areas of forest have been cut down and used for non-forestry or commercial purposes, such as mining, illegal logging leading to deforestation, etc.
Forests are considered the most valuable asset because the sustainability of the country and its people depend on them. They offer us excellent natural resources and as they are well used, no compensation measures have been taken. There is little or no leeway for replacing such resources. This is a high-risk activity, since, without such resources, the country would be shrouded in long-term dark clouds of uncertainty and the scarcity of essential resources.
The court assessed and reviewed the National Forest Policy and the Forest Conservation Act 1980 to cover all aspects of deforestation. Additionally, it examined the term ‘forest’ according to the new definition, which is subject to Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act 1980. With the prior approval of the central government, the state government or any other authority may use forest areas for non-forestry activities. With regard to the new interpretation of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act and Forest land, it cannot de-reserve the protective forest reserve for commercial purposes without consent. This means that all forest ventures need Central Government permission. Activities such as sawmills, mining, and plywood mills, for example, can be operated with Central Government approval.
The transportation of felled trees and timber from all parts of the seven states in northeastern India is completely restricted. Timber cannot be transported from these locations by rail, road or waterway. Indian Railways and state authorities have put restrictive measures in place to protect and ensure there are no violations. The defendants were also asked to find replacements for the wood. A high-level committee was set up to examine the implementation of the judgment and the orders issued by the court. The committee formulates a stock of timber and its commodities that the forestland makes use of to move the depots and mills in that area. The high-power committee gave the power to permit the utilization and the sale of timber goods if they become identified through the State Forest Corporation.
Licenses with all wood-based industries were cancelled. The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests has introduced a new action plan to tighten the intensive control and security measures while identifying the vulnerable areas according to the quarterly report submitted and approved by the Central Government. The culmination of the case is the presence of the Constitution of India, which addresses the powers of Central and State governments to safeguard and protect natural resources from illegal activity.
Article 48A of the Indian Constitution mentions that the state will venture to protect and improve the environment and establish the obligation to protect our country’s forests and wild animals. Article 51A of the Constitution of India provides all Indian citizens with a duty to protect, maintain and enhance, the natural environment, including rivers, lakes, forests, wildlife and benevolence towards all living beings.
Negative Aspect of the Court’s Ruling
The Supreme Court’s ruling led to the establishment of a large timber black market to encourage illegal activities in forested areas, such as deforestation and the use of land for non-forestry activities. The Court excessively interfered in the work and functions of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, so that the Ministry of Environment and Forest did not have its own right to speak, and always obeyed the guidelines and directions given by the Court and its authorities. This case brought about the monopolization of all power by the Central Government. The Central Government, now solely, has the power to determine India’s environmental laws.
While the above are negative aspects of the ruling, there are numerous benefits related to preserving forest areas from the vicious logging mafia. This case shows the importance of environmental justice withinside the court, additionally the role of the environmental authorities. It emphasized the role of the judicial authorities and also the court in intervening in environmental issues. In this case, the role of environmental authorities, the courts and other related stakeholders were testified.
Rule of Law
- The felling of trees in any forest or any clearing of forest areas for the implementation of projects is carried out in strict accordance with the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and all other applicable laws. In addition, the trees that are felled and disposed of are carried out solely by the State Forest Corporation and no private agency should be involved in any aspect.
- This order is valid and executed by all relevant parties, without prejudice to any order in dispute issued or in the future by any authority, including the Central or State Government or any other court (including the High Court) or Tribunal.
- With regard to the new interpretation of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act and Forest land, all forest ventures need Central Government permission. Activities such as sawmills, mining, and plywood mills, for example, can be operated with Central Government approval.
This case underscores the need to maintain and improve forest productivity in order to promote the conservation of biodiversity and to maintain and protect the environmental conditions discussed in this case. The outcome of the Godavarman case showed the downsizing and closure of several timber industries, also increased the awareness among the Indian citizens about environmental protection, deforestation is strictly prohibited. This incident has stimulated environmental protection on a large scale. The main contribution of this case is the effective and fluid application of various laws in the implementation of environmental activities.
- T. N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India & Ors [WP (Civil) No. 202 of 1995], (India).
- The Forest (Conservation) Act,1980, § 2, No. 69, Acts of Parliament, 1980 (India).
- The Forest (Conservation) Act,1980, § 2, No. 69, Acts of Parliament, 1980 (India).
- INDIA CONST. art. 48 A.
- INDIA CONST. art. 51 A.
This article has been written by Priyasha Sen Gupta, from Techno India University.