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Forest Definition

As per Oxford dictionary, ‘forest’ has been defined as ‘A large area covered chiefly with trees and undergrowth’. The Webster dictionary has also defined ‘forest’ as a dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract.

Prior to the landmark judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 12/12/1996, ‘forest’ was generally understood as any block of land notified as Reserved Forest/ Protected Forest/ Minor Forest/ Village forest etc under the provisions of Indian Forest Act/ Karnataka Forest Act/ Mysore Forest Act and other relevant Act. The Karnataka Forest Act,1963 has defined the following categories of forest:

  1. (a) Section 2(14) : “Reserved Forest” means any land settled and notified as such in accordance with the provisions of Chapter II of the Act.
  2. (b) Section 2 (13) : “Protected Forest” means any area at the disposal of Government which has been placed under special protection under clause (ii) of sub section (2) of Section 33 or is declared to be a protected forest under Section 35.
  3. (c) Section 2 (22): “Village Forest” means any land notified as such in accordance with the provisions of chapter III of the Act.
  4. (d) Section 2(2): “District Forest” includes all land at the disposal of Government not included within the limits of any reserved or village forest nor assigned at the survey settlement as free grazing ground or for any other public or communal purposes.

In order to avoid any misconception about the true scope of Forest Conservation Act-1980 and the meaning of the words ‘forest’ therein, the Hon’ble Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment dated 12/12/1996 in WP (Civil) 202/1995 (Godavarman Thirumalpad vs Union of India and others) defining the scope of ‘forest’ and ‘forest land’.

As per this judgment, the word “forest” must be understood according to its dictionary meaning. This description covers all statutorily recognized forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of section 2(1) of the Forest conservation Act. The term ‘forest land’, occurring in Section 2, will not only include “forest” as understood in the dictionary sense, but also any area recorded as ‘forest’ in the Government record irrespective of the ownership. This is how it has to be understood for the purpose of Section 2 of the Act. The provisions enacted in the Forest Conservation Act-1980 for the conservation of forests and the matters connected therewith must apply clearly to all forests so understood irrespective of the ownership or classification thereof.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court further ordered that each State Government should constitute within one month an Expert Committee to:

  1. Identify areas which are ‘forests’ irrespective of whether they are so notified, recognized or classified under any law and irrespective of the ownership of the land of such forest.
  2. Identify areas which were earlier forests but stand degraded, denuded or cleared.
  3. Identify areas covered by plantation trees belonging to Government and those belonging to private persons’

The Government of Karnataka in compliance with the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court constituted Expert Committee vide its Order No FEE 2 FFM 97, dated 10-01-1997, with a mandate to study and submit a report. Accordingly the Expert Committee-I submitted its report to Government on 02/04/1997.Accordingly the Government filed an affidavit before the Apex Court on 25-07-1997.

Further, as directed by the Central Empowered Committee Government of Karnataka vide Order No. FEE-270-FGL-2002 dated 25-09-2002 reconstituted the Expert Committee-I to verify the figures regarding various categories of forests identified and classify these into two broad categories: (a) notified forest as per Government Record and (b) Deemed Forests. Accordingly the Reconstituted Expert Committee-I submitted its report to the Government on 16-11-2002. (Report of the Reconstituted Expert Committee-I).

The Government of Karnataka has decided to have a relook on the report of the revised expert Committee-I since some of the ‘statutory forests’ were categorized as ‘deemed forest’. In other casaes, where areas have been categorized according to ‘dictionary definition’, it is not based on well defined pre-determined field criteria that can be applied and verified in field. In view of this the Government of Karnataka vide Order No: FEE 185 FAF 2011 dated 15-05-2014 has created

  1. District Level Committee
  2. Revenue Divisional Level Committee
  3. State Level Committee

The Committees will verify/ review the areas included as ‘deemed forests’ in the report of Revised Expert Committee-I. The total extent of deemed forests should be categorized into a) statutory forests b) recorded as “forests” in Government records. C) areas which are ‘forests’ as per dictionary definition based on field verification as per the criteria and methodology approved as Para (11) of Preamble. The Committees will also consider those areas not included in the Revised Expert Committee report as deemed forest, but eligible for inclusion based on Government records or approved field criteria.

The approved field criteria for ‘Forests’ as understood in the dictionary sense for the State of Karnataka are as given below:

  1. All Government land parcels (excluding those which are “statutory forests” and ‘forests as per Government records.”), of an area of two hectares and above having at least a density of 50 naturally grown trees per hectare of gbh of 30 cm and above (OR) All plantations on Government lands of an area of 2 Ha and above (excluding those which are “statutory forests” and ‘forests as per Government records.”),with a minimum density of 100 planted trees/ Ha of gbh of 30 cm and above.(gbh is girth of trees at breast height measured at a height of 4.5 feet from ground)
  2. Plantations of any kind on private lands shall not be considered as ‘forests’. Private lands with naturally grown trees with 50 trees per hectare of gbh 30 cm and above on an extent of 5 Ha and above shall only be treated as “private forests”.

The process of field verification is presently going on and after finalization of the list the same will be submitted to Hon’ble Supreme Court.

 
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