In an embarrassment for Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, the Bombay High Court has held that he had been out of bounds in amending the laws pertaining to forest rights. The HC said that the forest rights laws were introduced by the parliament, which alone has the powers to amend the same, and not the governor.
A bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and Avinash Gharote said, "Prima facie, it appears that an attempt has been made to amend the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. There can be no denying the fact that it is an Act of Parliament and, obviously, the amending power would be with the parliament."
"Prima facie, under the garb of power conferred upon the governor, by the Constitution, amendment to the Act cannot be carried out, especially by simply playing with the words," the bench held. The judges were dealing with a plea challenging the decision of the state's governor to amend the forest rights act.
Notably, the state governor had amended the laws by introducing a section for the tribal community or the aggrieved party to file an appeal against the district committees that deal with disputes pertaining to forest lands.
As per a notification issued in May this year, the governor modified the forest rights act and now made it applicable to areas covered in the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act.
By virtue of the present notification, the governor has introduced Divisional Level Committees, which would be hearing any appeals against the orders passed by the existing District Level Committees.
There are apprehensions about the amendment by activists working for tribal communities. They claim that this modification would further delay the litigation of tribals, as now almost every order of the district level committee could be challenged before the divisional committees.
Another apprehension is about the accessibility and also the awareness amongst the tribals about the availability of these new committees to hear their appeals.
Meanwhile, the HC has now ordered the Maharashtra government to clarify its stand on this issue within two weeks.