Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Bombay High Court declines PIL challenging conversion Sanads by authorities

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The High Court of Bombay at Goa declined to entertain the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the conversion Sanads (The conversion of use of land from agriculture to non agriculture purpose) by the authorities.

Norma Alvares , counsel for the petitioner, submitted that the 2 Committees appointed by the State Government have recently issued only interim reports on the issue of identification of certain areas as forests. She submits that based on these interim reports, the Authorities are not justified in issuing conversion sanads enabling the use of such properties for non-agricultural purposes.

Alvares admits that such interim reports have been filed before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which is seized of the matter. She, however, expressed an apprehension that the NGT mightnot be in a position to issue directions to the Authorities like theCollector, in the matter of grant or refusal of conversion sanads.Hence, the petition was filed.

Devidas J. Pangam, Advocate General , Somnath B. Karpe , Senior Advocate and Somnath B. Karpe , counsel for the respondents submitted that since the NGT is seized of the matter, it is only appropriate that the Court does not entertain the petition but relegate the petitioner to the National Green Tribunal.

They Submit that there is no basis for the apprehension now expressed by Alvares because the main issue is about the demarcation of the properties as forest. They further contended that the issue of grant or refusal of conversion is only incidental or consequential.Therefore, the National Green Tribunal will have the necessary jurisdiction to look into the issues now raised by the petitioner.

Pereira, Senior Advocate for respondents also submiteds that the sanads which have now been challenged by the petitioner in this petition, can as well bechallenged before the NGT because the main issue involved is about the identification of their properties as not being forest.

The Division Bench of M. S. Sonak and Justice Bharat P. Deshpande observed that even in their Judgment , since the NGT is seized with the main issue about identification of properties as forest lands, it’s only appropriate that the petitioners, if they choose, shouldapproach the NGT with the grievance now raised in this petition.The apprehension expressed by Alvares has been substantially answered by the submissions made by the Advocate General, Mr. Pereira and Mr. Karpe for the respondents. Even in High Court judgment, since the issue of conversion is merely incidental or ancillary to the main issue of identification of forest land, the NGT, would have sufficient jurisdiction to look into or examine the issues now raised in thispetition.

Therefore, for the above reasons, the Bench declined to entertain this petition. However, the Court granted the petitioner liberty toapproach the NGT and to raise all the issues that have been raised in the petition together with the objections which the petitioner has already filed before the NGT to the interim reports submitted from time to time.

At this stage, the Advocate General clarifies that thereports filed before the NGT are “part reports” and not interim reports. “Again, this is a matter which will have to be examinedby the NGT itself based on the rival contentions’, said the Court.

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