The High Court of Patna led by Justice Ahsauddin Ammanullah, while delivering an oral judgement said the environmental laws in spite of being substantive law, are required to be strictly implemented in today's world and non confirming to these laws is leading to irreversibly drastic and grave evil consequences on nature and that no slackness can be afforded or permitted on this front.
In the petition, the truck of the petitioner was seized with sand loaded on it in the forest area in the district of Gaya. Learned counsel for the petitioner submitted that the petitioner being the owner of the truck, had approached for releasing the truck as it could not be the basis of any consficational proceeding, both on legal and factual grounds. It was submitted that Section 52-D of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 does not authorize search and seizure by a person who is not a Forest Officer and in the present case, such seizure being made by the Forester, the very basis of such proceeding stands vitiated in law.
It was further submitted by the petitioner that the sand being a minor mineral, is covered under the Bihar Minor Mineral Rules, 2017. It was further submitted that, the law requires that the owner of any article, which is the subject matter of confiscation proceeding, has to be noticed and heard before order is passed, but in the present case, no such notice was ever issued to the company, who is the owner of the sand which was found loaded on the truck of the petitioner.
The petitioner submitted that he had moved the Court initially which was disposed off by giving direction to the Forest Officer-cum-Divisional Forest Officer to consider and dispose off the confiscation case, in accordance with law within a period of three months. And if the same was not done, for reasons not attributable to the petitioner, then the application for provisional release of the vehicle to be considered. Learned counsel for the petitioner further submitted that pursuant to this, the order was passed by the original authority by way of a hurried response rather than doing justice in the matter. And also submitted that in terms of Section 55 of the Indian Forest Act relating to articles which are liable to confiscation, the same should be the property of the Government and sand is not covered by it.
Learned counsel for the State submitted that the action of the authorities is fully in accordance with law and further submitted that the contention that the seizure itself was effected by an unauthorized person is erroneous as a Forester is also a Forest Officer under the Act. And also submitted that in the present case, there is ample evidence to indicate that the seized sand was illegally being lifted for the purpose of transportation from forest area.
Considering the facts and circumstances of the case and the submissions made by both parties, the court said that, it does not find any merit in the petition and also that it has been rightly contended by the learned counsel for the State, that the objection of the seizure made by the Forester is devoid of merit in view of the provisions of Section 52 of the Indian Forest Act. The court further added, the objection of no notice being served to the owner of the sand does not merit consideration as the ownership has not been proved in favour of the company and if the only document relied upon to indicate ownership of the sand is the tax invoice, a copy of which has been brought on record then, the court does not hesitate to hold that such document absolutely has no bearing with regard to the ownership of the sand which has been seized on the truck of the petitioner, which is very clearly collusive and fraudulent. And moreover, such objection could be raised only by the company and not the petitioner.
The court also observed that, as far as the contention of learned counsel for the petitioner, the sand is not covered under the Indian Forest Act stands negated by the definition of 'forest produce' in Section 2 (4) (b) (iv) of the Act, which clearly and necessarily would make sand a 'forest produce' amenable to the provisions of the Act and also that, once the court finds out that sand would be covered under such definition, automatically sections 33(2), 52 and 63(c) of the Indian Forest Act, would be attracted.
The court further added, "the Court would just add to what has been submitted by learned counsel for the State regarding the circumstances and the place from which the truck of the petitioner has been caught. It cannot be a mere coincidence that the truck has been caught with sand loaded from where two JCBs meant for excavating sand have also been seized and that too, from a forest area which has been found to have been cleared after cutting trees making passage for vehicles for lifting of sand. Thus, in the considered opinion of the Court, such facts establish the charge that the sand was lifted from forest area and the site where sand was stocked for loading, after clearing the area, and accordingly, the action taken and the orders passed are in consonance with the requirement of law."
While dismissing the petition the court said , "The Court would also not lose sight of the fact that environmental laws, besides being substantive law, are required to be strictly implemented in today's world as non confirming to these laws is leading to drastic and grave evil consequences on nature, which are irreversible and no slackness can be afforded or permitted on this front. However, this would not mean that the provisions of the law or the statutory requirements are to be waived. In the present case, the Court does not find any violation of any statutory or legal provisions and the orders of the authorities are well considered requiring no interference."
Title : Pawan Kumar Yadav v. State of Bihar
Case No : CWJC No. 24243 of 2019
Quorum : Hon'ble Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah
Appearances : Mr. Vinay Mistry, Advocate ( for petitioner)Mr. Dhurjati Kumar Prasad, GP ( for the State)