Supreme Court: The Division Bench of Hemant Gupta* and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ., held that revenue record is not a document of title. The Bench expressed,
“Even if the name of the lessee finds mention in the revenue record but such entry without any supporting documents of creation of lease contemplated under the Forest Act is inconsequential and does not create any right, title or interest over 12 bighas of land claimed to be in possession of the lessee as a lessee of the Gaon Sabha.”
A notification dated 11-10-1952 was issued under Section 4 of the U.P. Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950 by Uttar Pradesh government to the effect that an area of 162 acres in Village Kasmandi Khurd shall not vest with the Gaon Samaj and, accordingly all rights, title and interest of all intermediaries including the forest had vested in the State of Uttar Pradesh by that notification. Subsequently, on 23-11-1955, by a notification, the said land was declared as Protected Forest under Section 4 Indian Forest Act, 1927.
However, the local management committee (Gaon Sabha) had put the lessees into possession of land in question which was challenged by the Forest Department. Though, the Additional Commissioner, Lucknow decided the issue in favour of Forest Department, that order was set aside by the High Court of Allahabad.
Can a land be declared Protected Forest without mentioning its details in the notification?
The respondent-lessee argued that the details of land in respect of which notification under Section 4 of the Forest Act was issued were not mentioned, except providing the total area measuring 162 acres, hence the notification was vague and did not comply with the conditions specified in Section 4 of the Forest Act and it was only in the proclamation published under Section 6 of the Forest Act that the details of land (Khasra No. 1576) was mentioned.
Rejecting the contentions raised by the lessee, the Bench opined that it would be sufficient to describe the limits of the forest by roads, rivers, ridges or other well-known or readily intelligible boundaries, as done by the notification dated 23-11-1955, by mentioning that the land measuring 162 acres would constitute forest land. The Bench observed,
“The notification dated 23.11.1955 has the boundaries on all four sides mentioned therein. There is no other requirement under Section 4 of the Forest Act. It is only Section 6 of the Forest Act which needs to specify the situation and limits of the proposed forest.”
Noticeably, in terms of clause (a) of Section 6 of the Forest Act, the details of khasra numbers which were part of 162 acres found mention in the proclamation so published. Therefore, the Bench held that statutory procedural requirements were satisfied.
Is final notification under S. 20 necessary for acquisition of land declared as Protected Forest?
Disagreeing with the argument of the respondent that the final notification under Section 20 of the Forest Act was necessary, the Bench observed that Section 20 of the Forest Act does show that for a reserved forest, there is a requirement of publication of notification but no time limit is prescribed for publication of such notification under Section 20. Therefore, even if notification under Section 20 of the Forest Act had not been issued, by virtue of Section 5 of the Forest Act, there is a prohibition against acquisition of any right over the land comprised in such notification except by way of a contract executed in writing by or on behalf of the Government. Since no such written contract was executed by or on behalf of the State or on behalf of the person in whom such right was vested, therefore, the Bench held that the Gaon Sabha was not competent to grant lease in favour of the appellant.
Calling the findings of the High Court that since no objections were filed by the Forest Department earlier, the objections would be barred by Section 49 of the Consolidation Act, clearly erroneous, the Bench clarified,
“The land vests in the Forest Department by virtue of notification published under a statute. It was the lessee who had to assert the title on the forest land by virtue of an agreement in writing by a competent authority but no such agreement in writing has been produced.”
Therefore, the Bench held that the lessee would not be entitled to any right only on the basis of an entry in the revenue record. Accordingly, the order of the High Court was held to be not sustainable in law and the same was set aside.
[Prabhagiya Van Adhikari Awadh Van Prabhag v. Arun Kumar Bhardwaj, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 868, decided on 05-10-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together
For Department of Forest: Advocate Kamlendra Mishra
For the Respondent: Advocate Aftab Ali Khan
For Gaon Sabha: Advocate Mr. Hooda
*Judgment by: Justice Hemant Gupta