KOCHI: The High Court on Monday upheld the constitutional validity of the Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act, 2003, framed by the state government to protect privately held forest land.
The government had notified 45,000 acres of land spread in Kasaragod, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Kannur, Idukki and Kollam districts as EFL and vested them with the state.
A Division Bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice P R Ramachandra Menon issued the order while disposing of 54 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the EFL Act and notices issued by the state government.
The petitioners submitted that only Parliament is competent under the residuary power to enact such an Act as the state has no legislation to protect ecologically fragile land.
There was no scientific approach while identifying ecologically fragile land under the 2003 Act, the petitioners submitted. The Bench held that the Act did not violate Article 14 and 19 of the Constitution, hence the court cannot hold it was arbitrary, discriminatory and devoid of any rational classification.
Appearing for the State, K V Viswanathan and government pleader M P Madhavan Kutty pointed out that the EFL Act is intended to take over forest areas and other ecologically fragile land under private ownership and to safeguard and manage the land scientifically.
As per Section 3(1) of the Act, the government is empowered to notify any land as ecologically fragile land, which shall then stand transferred and vested with the State.
Though the court upheld the constitutional validity of the Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act, it directed the state to give opportunity to all to avail statutory remedy. The EFL custodian and the Tribunal should take appropriate action in this regard.
The petitioners who challenged the notification issued after 2003 can approach the Tribunal and it should take a decision within six months.