-Saturday, april 25 1992, the times of india, new delhi
The Times of India News Service
- C Lokeswara Rao
HYDERABAD, April 24: Environment activists have won a significant decision in Andhra Pradesh High Court. A division bench comprising Mr. Justice Mohammed Sardar Ali Khan and Mr. Justice D. Reddeppa Reddy has quashed state government order of 1990, which circumvented an earlier decision to protect forests.
The quashed government order had been hanging over the Chintalapudi forest in East Godavari district, one of the few dense forests in the state. The 200-hectare Chintalapudi forest is a key segment of the thick forests covering 1400 hectares.
The quashed order directed forest officials not to interfere in the felling of trees and issue of transit permits. The order was issued by the Channa Reddy government but the chief minister stayed it following protests by environmentalists and politicians.
The order of 1990 was issued in response to a plea by a timber contractor Mr. V. Shankara Reddy, who sought exemption from an earlier order issued by the NTR government in 1988. The order was meant to protect private forests in scheduled areas and prevent tribals from being exploited by non-tribal timber merchants.
One provision prevented the owner from selling the right to fell trees and another limited the value of trees cut in a year to Rs. 5000.
Mr. Sankara Reddy is a non-tribal timber merchant with a power of attorney and has fought many legal battles to retain his right over the forests.
He challenged the order of 1988 which nullified his power
of attorney. And when the high court upheld the order, he went to the Supreme Court.
After the government changed in 1989, he approached them with a fresh plea for exemption and offered to withdraw his case in the Supreme Court. Dr. Channa Reddy’s government issued the order but stayed its implementation following protests.
Mr. Sankara Reddy renewed his efforts after Mr. N. Janardhan Reddy became the chief minister. The high court first imposed a stay and now a bench has quashed the order.
In upholding the petition filed by Sakti, a voluntary organisation working for tribals, the court made some important observations. Rejecting objections about the locus standi of the petitioner. The Bench observed that the Constitution attached vital importance to the maintenance of proper environmental and ecological conditions.
Also, a full bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court had noted in an earlier case that what had to be seen for the purpose of locus standi was whether there a substantive breach of law or the Constitution as changed and not the antecedents of the person who conveyed the information to court.
The court quoted extensively from a Supreme Court judgement to make the point that the government could not empower itself to proceed contrary to the law. An illegality could not be cured because it was undertaken by the government.
The court noted that in the present case Mr. Sankara Reddy was only a power of attorney who was trying to cut trees for his own benefit. The object of the legislation was to save private forests in scheduled areas from denudation.