Court ruling on tree felling worries officials

A dispute over a plot demarcation has highlighted the problem of protecting privately owned forests in Himachal.

By Anumita Roychowdhury
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

FOREST officials in Himachal Pradesh are apprehensive about the environmental costs of a recent court judgement allowing a private forest owner to fell trees to make way for apple orchards. The forest department, fearing a deluge of applications for orchards, has challenged the September 30 Himachal Pradesh high court decision in the Supreme Court.

Under the state forest law and the Forest Conservation Act, clear-felling -- the removal of all trees from an area -- is not allowed. But selected trees on private land can be felled once in ten years. Following the judgement, the department, in a bid to prevent clear-felling in private forests, allowed six commercially important tree species to be cut. Poplar, eucalyptus, willow, albizzia, rubinia and mulberry were exempted from the ban on clear-felling so private owners could sell timber for apple crates that are now supplied from Punjab and Haryana.

Said V P Mohan, principal chief conservator of forests, "I have to give an incentive to the people to keep their forests intact." The case has brought to light the problem of sustainably protecting the 144,089 ha of private forests that cover 3.9 per cent of the state area. Mangat Ram went to court after a dispute with the forest department over the assertion that the plot of land he had purchased was privately owned. An inspection report had cast doubt over the legitimacy of the claim and suggested the demarcation be verified.

Mangat Ram contended the demarcation had been changed because the original site was unapproachable and difficult to cultivate. When he was denied permission to clear-fell trees, Mangat Ram asked for his plot to be exchanged for a piece of government land, which was also disallowed.

The high court said the state government had "granted permission for clear-felling from time to time to enable people to raise apple orchards" and had "deviated from the ten-year felling programme." But forest officials say legal sanction for clear-felling will have grave ecological implications.

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  • It was a time when the grazing lands were surrendered by the farmers (community) in Himachal Pradesh and the Forest Department was allowed to develop forest area on the grazing land of the farmers. It can be confirmed from the figures that the forest cover has been increased 13% in Himachal Pradesh. It is due to the cooperation of the local people/community. The community is quite unhappy with the decision of Hon'ble Supreme Court. Most of the people are far away from the development in Himachal Pradesh. People are bound to carry even patient on mule/other means of transport by 13 to 15 kilometres. The people of far flung area of the State are dreaming for the development by connecting with the roads. The decision taken by the Apex Court is very cruel decision towards the people of far flung area of the State. It would be better if the court direct the State to ensure the growth of forests. I am of the opinion that it should be ensured that if a road project need to cut 100 trees, responsibility should be fixed to grow at least 500-1000 trees by the community. Its strict compliance should be ensured by the State Government. The Decision of the Apex Court has shocked the community. The local community of Himachal Pradesh has decided not to grow any tree in the forest area nearby them. I think, besides this decision, Apex Court should direct the State Government of Himachal Pradesh to grow 10 times or 20 times plants in the forest area where the trees are being cut for the construction of roads only. Other projects are not too much essential as compared to the roads. On the one point Apex Court should allow the State Government to cut trees that is the road.

    Posted by: S R Chauhan | 9 months ago | Reply