SC issues notice on Private Forest matter from Goa

A division bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Abhay S Oka and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan today issued notice to the Goa government on an appeal filed by the Goa Foundation against the NGT judgment dated 12.09.2023 which had upheld the reports of the Goa government’s Forest Review Committee and its methodology.

It will be recalled that the Thomas and Araujo Forest Expert Committees had submitted their reports in December 2018, declaring 8.5 sq km of Goa as forest (finally), and more than 20 sq km as forest (provisional). In 2020, the state government appointed a Review Committee to examine the reports.

Petitioners alleged before the NGT that a huge number of survey numbers identified as private forest were removed from examination at the Panjim forest headquarters by the Review Committee without any ground verification solely on the basis of satellite maps procured by the forest department from the Forest Survey of India at Dehra Dun.

In pursuance of its work, the Review Committee submitted several reports to the NGT. It first called them “interim reports” but later changed the terminology to “part final reports”. All the reports were challenged by the Goa Foundation.

The Goa Foundation told the NGT that the Review Committee was appointed solely to confirm the areas identified “provisionally” as forest and that it could not have reviewed the 8.5 sq km “finally” identified as forest. The Foundation also challenged the methodology of removing survey numbers without a site inspection or verification, as unsound and having no basis, as ground verification was always followed by committees in the past.

The NGT upheld the methodology followed by the Review Committee, but stayed any development on properties finally identified as forest by the Araujo and Thomas committees. Dissatisfied with the NGT judgment, the Goa Foundation filed an appeal under the provisions of the NGT Act, which came up for consideration before the Supreme Court today.

Claude Alvares