NGT | Pursuing stale claims and multiplicity proceedings in no manner sub-serves public interest; Goa Govt. to finally notify an area of 46.11 sq km as ‘private forest’

National Green Tribunal (NGT): A Division Bench of Justice Sheo Kumar Singh (Judicial Member) and Satyawan Singh Garbyal (Expert Member) while addressing an issue observed that,

“Dragging the matter to courts of law years after years, would not serve any public interest. Settled matters cannot be lightly interfered by the unending litigations.”

Present matter was originally filed in the Bombay High Court, Goa Bench challenging the consolidated report of the Goa Forest Department regarding demarcated private forests at Goa. High Court, though had transferred the matter to National Green Tribunal.

In the present application, applicant raised “substantial questions relating to the environment” connected with implementation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 in the State of Goa and enforcement of the directives of the Supreme Court in the Godavarman matter.

Process of identification of private forest in the State of Goa was started in the Year 1997, with the constitution of the S.M. Sawant Committee.

Sawant Committee submitted its final report on 10-12-1999, identifying 46.60 sq km area as a private forest.

However, the Committee itself clarified in its report that the report is an approximation and that before finalizing, the State Government would have to carry out actual ground verification to determine the extent of Private Forests (Fulfilling the above three criteria) existing. Also, it was clarified that the area identified by them is not exhaustive and still more areas might have remained unidentified.

In pursuance to NGT Order dated 07-01-2016, the Government of Goa constituted a new committee (Sharma Committee) to review the private forest area identified by the earliest Sawant and Kapurkar Committee and the final result of the Review Committee.

Tribunal observed that the applicants regularly contested the matter before every platform and they were heard and the matter has been finally decided, hence they cannot be given an opportunity of hearing for an indefinite period or till the matter is decided in their favour.

Object for fixing a time limit for litigation is based on public policy fixing a life span for a legal remedy for the purpose of the general welfare.

Further, the tribunal also noted that Salmond in his jurisprudence states that the laws come to the assistance of the vigilant and not of the person who is delaying the proceedings.

Tribunal also added that pursuing stale claims and multiplicity proceedings in a no manner sub-serves public interest.

Public interest demands that the state or the persons involved in it as the case may be should not be allowed to indulge in any act to unsettle the settled legal rights accrued in law by resorting to avoidable litigation unless the claimants are guilty of deriving benefit to rich they are otherwise not entitled, in any fraudulent manner or pending the litigation for time immemorial.

The present matter has been pending since long and the matter has been surveyed identified and demarcated by more than 4 times by the Forest Department by the Committees and there was litigation pending before the Supreme Court and High Court & as the issue was heard and decided by National Green Tribunal Bench at Pune, report of the Sharma Committee is to be accepted in toto.[Goa Foundation v. State of Goa, 2020 SCC OnLine NGT 229, decided on 31-08-2020]

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