A Single Judge bench of the Patna High Court held in a judgment delivered on 05/12/2019 that a Forester also can make the same seizures and searches as a “Forest Officer” under the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The Court was hearing a Writ Petition filed by the owner of a truck which was carrying sand and was seized in the forest area in the district of Gaya. The Petitioner prayed for release of the truck and quashing of the seizure list and order passed by Principal Secretary-cum-Revisional Authority, Environment & Forest Department, Government of Bihar, Patna.

The Petitioner argued that the sand which was being carried in the truck cannot be confiscated as it does not form part of the Articles that can be confiscated by the Government under Section 55 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The Petitioner also argued that the Forester (the person who seized the truck carrying sand) is not lawfully authorized to seize or confiscate property under the Indian Forest Act, 1927.

The Court relied on an earlier Division Bench judgment rendered by itself, in Jamuna Prasad Singh v. State of Bihar, 1994(1) PLJR 842, which states that a Forester is also a Forest Officer under the Act. The court also took notice of the fact that the ownership of the sand in the truck was sought to be proved by way of a tax invoice which was dated the same day that the truck was seized. The court stated that issuance of such tax invoice itself might require strong action, and that the document itself is “clearly collusive and fraudulent”.

The Court held that sand, indeed was covered under the definition of “forest produce” in Section 2 (4) (b) (iv) of the Act, and that due to it being covered, the provisions under the Act for penalties for acts in contravention of the act (Section 33); seizure of property (Section 52); and Altering, moving or defacing boundary-marks (Section 62 (c)) were held to be applicable.

As a Concluding remark, the Court observed thus,

The Court would also not lose sight of the fact that environmental laws, besides being substantive law, are required to be strictly implemented in today’s world as non confirming to these laws is leading to drastic and grave evil consequences on nature, which are irreversible and no slackness can be afforded or permitted on this front.  However, this would not mean that the provisions of the law or the statutory requirements are to be waived. In the present case, the Court does not find any violation of any statutory or legal provisions and the orders of the authorities are well considered requiring no interference.”

Thus, the Hon’ble Judge of the Patna High Court adjudicated upon the case in light of earlier precedent, while also applying their mind to the facts to consider whether an offence was actually committed. The closing remarks signify the urgency in implementing environmental laws in a strict manner, due to the drastic irreversible consequences of such offences.

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Judgment link: Pawan Kumar Yadav v. State of Bihar and Ors.