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HC upholds notification of 14,000 hectares as forest land

The Bombay HC has dismissed 176 petitions, challenging the Maharashtra government’s action of taking over land after declaring it as reserved forests, observing that its anxiety is to maintain forest cover in the state

A division bench of the Bombay High Court, of justices SC Dharmadhikari and PD Naik, on September 27, 2018, dismissed 176 petitions, challenging the state government’s decision of mutating the names of the petitioners as owners, from the revenue records under the Maharashtra Private Forest (Acquisition) Act, 1975.

Mutation of a property, refers to the transfer or change of title entry in the revenue records maintained by local civic bodies.

“The anxiety of this court is to maintain the forest cover in the state. It would be improper to rely on the one-sided version of the petitioners, who are but builders and developers,” the judgement said.

The petitioners had claimed that the government had, in June 1956, issued show-cause notices on the predecessors of the petitioners, under the Indian Forests Act. “The show-cause notices were not acted upon, has lapsed and ceased to have any effect. Therefore, the state government’s action of mutating the petitioners’ names, after four decades, is completely arbitrary and unreasonable,” the petitioners argued.

The state government opposed the petitions and said that their land were deemed as reserved forests in 1975 itself and hence, the ownership vested with the government. “Any transaction of sale or purchase after 1975, would not confer any right on the purchaser and the sale cannot be held as valid. The original owners never challenged the notices,” government pleader Abhinandan Vagyani had argued.

According to Vagyani, the lands concerned in the 176 petitions are spread across the state and measure up to 14,000 hectares of forest land.

The bench, in its judgement, ruled that it concurs with the government’s arguments and holds that the contentions raised in the petitions were not bona fide. “The petitions seems to have been filed as an afterthought, by those having commercial interests and at their behest, it would be highly unsafe to reopen the matters,” the high court said.

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