Kerala HC upholds constitutional validity of Ecologically Fragile Land Act, 2003

The Kerala High Court upheld the constitutional validity of a Ecologically Fragile Land Act, promulgated by the state government in 2003, following which nearly 45,000 acres spread across various districts were notified as ecologically fragile.

Dismissing the petitions, a division bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice P R Ramachandra Menon said for determining the claim of each owner, evidence and spot position had to be considered.

Challenging the notification of the Ecologically Fragile Land Act, 2003, 56 petitions were filed by land and estate owners in the high court. For such purpose, land owners could approach the custodian of vested forests, who should take a decision within three months.

This rider was also applicable to lands notified according to the ordinance promulgated during 2000-2001, the bench held. Land owners whose lands have been notified after the act have to approach the tribunal, which has to take a decision within six months.

According to provisions of the act, government can take over the land notified as ecologically fragile and such lands will be vested with the government. The question whether lands taken over by government will fall within the category of EFL has to be determined by the custodian of the vested forests and tribunal constituted under the Act.

The court held that the State had the legislative competence to enact the Act and the provisions of the Act did not violate Article 14 and 19 (equality before law and fundamental right respectively) of the Constitution. The court said that non-payment of compensation for the fragile land taken over under Section 3 of the Act could not be held to be violative of Article 300(A) of the Constitution.

Supreme Court lawyer K.V. Viswanathan, who appeared for the State government, contended that the ecologically fragile land meant any forest land or any portion of it lying contiguous to or encircled by a reserved forest or a vested forest or any other forest land owned by the government.

The court asked those whose land had been taken over as fragile land to submit applications in a month to the custodian of the ecologically-fragile land for reviewing the takeover notification. The custodian was directed to examine and take a decision in three months after receiving the application.