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Forest (Conservation) Rules, 1981
The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
The Indian Forest Act, 1927 (16 of 1927)
CRZ notification
  The two prime legislations on forests are the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. However, some states have their own Forest Acts. Since the basis of all State Forest Acts is the same as that of the Indian Forest Act of 1878 taken with certain exceptions in the Indian Forest Act, 1927, we shall be discussing here only the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
The preamble to the Indian Forest Act, 1927 (16 of 1927) states that the Act seeks to consolidate the law relating to forests, the transit of forest produce and the duty that can be levied on timber and other forest produce.
The Indian Forest Act, 1927 (16 of 1927) has 86 Sections and it has been divided into thirteen chapters relating to i) Preliminary, ii) Reserved Forests, iii) Village Forests, iv) Protected Forests, v) the Control Over Forests and Lands not Being the Property of Government, vi) the Duty on Timber and Other Forest Produce, vii) the Control of Timber and Other Forest Produce in Transit, viii) the Collection of the Drift and Stranded Timber, ix) Penalties and Procedure, x)Cattle-Trespass, xi) Forest Officers, xii) Subsidiary Rules, and xiii) Miscellaneous.
In the Indian Forest Act, 1927, a striking feature is the absence of any definition of forest or forest land. The attempt of the Supreme Court to assign a meaning to the term ‘forest’ as per the dictionary meaning has seen a spate of interventions in the Court due to its wide ambit. Forest as per the above definition, may include private, common pasture, or cultivable land.
Section 2(4) of this Act provides definitions for the forest-produce and includes:
 the following whether found in, or brought from a forest, that is to say- timber, charcoal, caoutchouc, catechu, wood-oil, resin, natural varnish, bark, lac, mahua flowers, mahua seeds, kuth and myrabolams, and
 the following when found in, or brought from, a forest or not, that is to say-
- trees and leaves, flowers and fruits, and all other parts or produce not hereinbefore mentioned, of trees,
- plants not being trees (including grass, creepers, reeds and moss), and all parts or produce of such plants,
- wild animals and skins, tusks, horns, bones, silk, cocoons, honey and wax, and all other parts or produce of animals, and
- peat, surface soil, rock and minerals (including lime-stone, laterite, mineral oils, and all products of mines or quarries).
Offences under the Forest Act, 1927, on account of their peculiarity, differ from those under the Indian Penal Code in the sense that as a result of the former, no one is personally aggrieved or affected by the injury inflicted upon the forests, and the vast expanse of it makes the detection of offences difficult. Forest Offence has been defined under Section 2(3) of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, to mean ‘an offence punishable under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or rules made there under. Forest offences have been classified into two broad categories. Firstly, there are trivial offences covered under Section 68, where offences may be disposed of by compounding (compromising with money). Secondly, there are offences which do not fall under the above category and they entail higher punishment, which includes imprisonment, confiscation of private forest produce, tools, vehicle and cattle, etc., and in addition, the recovery of an amount equal to the damage done to the forest as compensation in case of offences relating to reserve forest (Section 26). A third category of forest offences relates to cattle trespass. Such offences are disposed of under the Cattle Trespass Act, 1871.
This Act establishes three categories of forests:
Reserve forest:
The most restricted category is ‘Reserved Forest’. These forests may be constituted by the State Government on any forest land or waste land which is the property of the Government or on which the Government has proprietary rights. Where the land is not forest land or waste land, as said above, any notification issued by the Government (under Section 20 of the IFA) declaring the land as reserve forest will be without jurisdiction and a Civil Court would be competent to quash such notification. On the other hand, where forest land or waste land is the property of the Government, the Forest Settlement Officer shall proceed to determine subordinate rights in the land before a final notification is issued making the area a reserved forest. In reserved forests, most uses by local people are prohibited, unless specifically allowed by a Forest Officer in the course of settlement.
Protected forest:
The State Government is empowered to constitute any land other than reserved forests as protected forests over which the Government has proprietary rights. Under ‘Protected Forests’, the Government retains the power to issue rules regarding the use of such forests, but in the absence of such rules, most practices are allowed. Among other powers, the State retains a power to reserve the specific tree species in the protected forests. This power has been used to establish State control over trees, whose timber, fruit or other non-wood products have revenue-raising potential.
Village forest:
A third classification is ‘village forests’ in which the State Government may assign to ‘any village community the rights of Government to or over any land which has been constituted a reserved forest’. The State Government may also make rules for regulating the management of such forests. Little use has been made of this provision. The terms ‘village forest’ and ‘forest village’ are interchangeably used - however, they must be distinguished from one another. While ‘village forest’ is a legal category under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, ‘forest village’ is an administrative category. Although the latter is recognised by the Forest Department, the revenue benefits cannot accrue to such villages as they are not technically under the revenue departments.
The Indian Forest Act, 1927, establishes an elaborate procedure for the settlement of rights when a reserved forest is intended to be constituted. The settlement procedures require the Forest Officer called the Forest Settlement Officer (FSO) to consider the claims of the local inhabitants to certain usage rights, but leave ample discretion for him to relocate, revise or discontinue such practices. The State is first required to issue a notification declaring its intention to reserve a certain tract of land, and appoint an FSO to inquire into the existence of any alleged rights in favour local inhabitants. The inquiry by the FSO should not be confined to merely recording evidence produced by the claimants or ascertainable from the records of the Government. The FSO may call for an examination of any person who, he may think, has the knowledge of the facts, including the evidence of any person likely to be acquainted with the same (Section 6). No new rights in the notified land may arise after such a notification has been issued, and those claiming any pre-existing right have a period of at least three months to appear and assert such a right, and to make a case for compensation. Generally, rights which are not asserted during that period are extinguished, although there are provisions in extraordinary cases for later assertions until the final reservation order is published.
The Indian Forest Act anticipates three types of claims in forests proposed to be reserved. First, a forest dweller might lay claim to ownership of land. Second, a claim may be asserted for rights to pasture or forest produce. Finally, special provisions apply to the practice of shifting cultivation, which the Forest Settlement Officer may prohibit without any compensation. However, if the FSO determines that it is impossible, having due regard for the maintenance of the reserved forest, to make any settlement that would allow the practice to continue, he may commute the rights by the payment of money or grant of land or in such other manner as he thinks fit (Section 16 of IFA). Notably, the FSO has no power to confer any right on the forest dweller.
The power to levy duty on timber and other forest produce and the regulation of timber and other forest produce in transit rests with the Central Government and State Government respectively (Sections 39, 41 of IFA). Although the power to levy duty is entrusted to the Central Government, the regulation of transit of timber and forest produce lies with the respective State Governments. This does not prevent the State Government to levy duty as forests are a Concurrent List subject and the State Governments can adopt variants of the Central Act.
The IFA provides for the control of all river and river banks in regard to floating timber, as well as control of all timber and forest produce in transit by land or water, as vested in the State Government. The State Government is empowered to prohibit export, import or moving of timber and forest produce without a pass from a duly authorised officer. This Section also empowers the State Governments to frame rules to regulate timber and other forest produce that is being conveyed from one place to another.
Generally speaking, a working plan is a guiding document to manage forest division for a prescribed period. This includes the details of a forest division wherein the working circles of such divisions are identified for sprucing, fuel, protection and plantations, among other things. Further, the working plan also includes detailed information on the legal status of forests, the nature of rights, the financial forecast and cost of the plan, staff and labour supply, wildlife management, expected forestry operations and other details. Working plans are not legal documents, but only guiding documents to facilitate the management of forests.
As regards tree farming on private land, it must be kept in mind that the Indian Forest Act, 1927 sought to primarily exclude private land from its purview. However, the Courts have interpreted the extent of this Act in a wider context and held that the preamble and other provisions of the Act are wide enough to cover all categories of forests. Specifically, Chapter 5 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 deals with control over forests and lands not being the property of the Government under special circumstances (Sections 35-38 of IFA).
The urban laws relating to trees, wherever enacted, are not on a different footing. The Tree Preservation Acts such as the Delhi Tree Preservation Act, 1994, mandates that any (tree) felling within the city limits, including on private lands, has to be authorised by the Tree Officer who is an officer of a rank not less than a DFO. Examples of such legislation regulating the preservation and use of trees in urban centres, rural and hill areas, from various other States, can be multiplied.

12) This Act provides for punishment for the contravention of any rule under this Act, and the person found guilty of contravention is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or a fine of up to five hundred rupees, or both.
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