Jharkhand High Court: Anil Kumar Choudhary, J. disposed of a revision petition, filed against the judgment of the trial court, whereby the petitioner was convicted and sentenced for simple imprisonment for six months for offences punishable under Section 33 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 but it did not pass any separate sentence for his conviction under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

The facts of the instant case were that two forest guards while patrolling through the protected forest area, had found the revision petitioner and other co-accused persons ploughing the forest land within the protected forest. On being questioned, they disclosed their names and addresses but resisted confiscation of their ploughing implements. The guards confirmed that 3.5 acres had been ploughed by the petitioner and the other co-accused persons and they had no documents proving ownership of the land. Another witness stated that the land was ploughed after being encroached upon. The trial court relied on the evidence and convicted the revision petitioner and the co-accused persons. The first appellate court conducted an independent comprehension of the evidence on the record and agreed with the decision of the trial court and dismissed the appeal.

Abhilash Kumar and Anurag Kashyap, counsels for the revision petitioner, submitted that both the lower courts had made an error by convicting the revision petitioner for the offence punishable under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 as this was not penal provision. They also added that the appellate court did not properly consider the evidence on the record. They further stated that the petitioner was an old man of 74 years and had been facing the severity of criminal prosecution since 1993. Moreover, the petitioner had remained in custody until he was granted bail. Thus, in case his conviction was sustained, a lenient sentence could be given to him.

Sanjay Kumar Pandey, counsel appeared on behalf of the State and defended the impugned judgment passed by the appellate court and contended that the appellate court had rightly upheld the conviction of the revision petitioner. He asserted that this revision was not based on any merit and hence should be dismissed.

The Court held that both the lower courts had erred by convicting the revision petitioner for the offence punishable under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 as this was not a penal provision. Consequently, his conviction under the abovementioned Act was ‘not sustainable in law’ and thus he was acquitted for the same. It observed that the evidence on the record was adequate to establish the charge for the offence punishable under Section 33 (1) (c) of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. Thus, the Court did not need to exercise revisional jurisdiction in this aspect. However, the court remarked that there was no specific evidence on the record about the dimension of the area which was cleared for cultivation by the petitioner and noted the fact that he had undergone the rigors of the criminal prosecution for a considerable period of time. Hence, it held that the sentence of the petitioner be modified to the period that he had previously spent in custody. [Prasad Paswan v. State of Jharkhand, 2019 SCC OnLine Jhar 772, decided on 13-03-2019]

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