Read Judgment: IN RE: T.N. GODAVARMAN THIRUMULPAD Vs. UNION OF INDIA AND ORS

Mansimran Kaur

New Delhi, June 6, 2022: While dealing with a CEC (Central Empowered Committee) report pertaining to the Jamua Ramgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, the Supreme Court has observed that each protected forest must have an ESZ(Eco-Sensitive Zone) of minimum one kilometre.

Holding that the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests as also the Home Secretary of each State and Union Territory shall remain responsible for proper compliance of the Guidelines as regards nature of use within the ESZ of all national parks and sanctuaries, the larger Bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Aniruddha Bose said, “The role of the State cannot be confined to that of a facilitator or generator of economic activities for immediate upliftment of the fortunes of the State. The State also has to act as a trustee for the benefit of the general public in relation to the natural resources so that sustainable development can be achieved in the long term. Such role of the State is more relevant today, than, possibly, at any point of time in history with the threat of climate catastrophe resulting from global warming looming large.”

The proceedings in the present case originated from a writ petition  instituted under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, which was in the nature of public interest.The purpose for instituting the same was protection of forest lands in the Nilgiris District of State of Tamil Nadu.Several orders were passed from time to time to ensure the preservation of forest resources in balance with the economic activities. 

The present set of applications stemmed from a report of the CEC dated November 20, 2003 which was with respect to the Jamua Ramgarh wildlife sanctuary. This Court converted the report into an Interlocutory Application. In relation to the said application several other applications were filed primarily by the miners of the Jamua Ramgarh wildlife sanctuary seeking impleadment in the same application and hence in the present proceeding. 

The CECs observation in the said interlocutory application was that no mining activity was permissible inside the sanctuary order as per this Court’s order dated February 14, 2000 and temporary working permits were granted in violation of the applicable statutory provisions and guidelines fell inside the sanctuary. 

The first question that was dealt by this Court was pertaining to the impleadment of firms and individuals who had some kind of permission for carrying on mining activities in Jamua Ramgarh sanctuary.  By observing that the present case arose out of a public interest litigation, the Court held that Rule VIII of Order 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 could be followed to the extent of issue of public notice or general intimation to public, having regard to the nature and scope of the proceeding. However, in cases where in such a course had not been followed, persons affected or likely to be affected by any order passed in the litigation would be entitled to join or participate in the proceeding. Thus, the impleadment prayers were allowed. 

Further, the Court took into note the seven affidavits that were put on record filed by the State of Rajasthan. The stand of the State of Rajasthan was primarily in relation to the creation of ESZ. It was their case that the decision of 25 metres safety zone in relation to Jamua Ramgarh sanctuary was conceived by the State and the State Government had also taken a decision that in the vicinity of sanctuaries, national parks and reserve forests, mining activities should not be undertaken within 25 metres. As regards other forest areas, their position was that mining ought to be undertaken in the immediate vicinity of the forest areas, Their plea was for allowing mining activity in non-forest areas within protected forests and beyond the ESZ of 100 metres for economic activities, in the interest of the local population as also the State’s economy, the Court noted. 

In view of the same, the Court further emphasized on the Public Trust Doctrine which was culled out in the case of  M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath and Others and reiterated that the Public Trust Doctrine was part of the law of the land.  The Court further observed that in the said interlocutory application, it was disclosed that the settlement of rights were completed by the District Collector Jaipur under Sections 19 to 26 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. With respect to the same, the Court took into consideration Section 18 and 26 A and stated that the plea taken that the Jamua Ramgarh sanctuary did not have status of sanctuary as no declaration was passed under Section 26A of the Act, 1972. 

In addition to this, the Court observed that  the guidelines framed on February 9, 2011 were just and reasonable and the view taken by the Standing Committee that uniform guidelines may not be possible in respect of each sanctuary or national parks for maintaining ESZ was accepted by the Court. Thus, in view of the above observations, the Court disposed of the said interlocutory application. 

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