· Before the British came in, the tribals lived on forest produce and also by cultivating parts of the forest area.
· Britishers brought in the Indian Forest Act 1927, taking away the rights of the forests from the tribals and made provisions in the Forest Act that denied the inherent rights of the people.
· After independence, the Government of India transferred the rights over forests to the states thereby enabling different state governments to exploit the forests to raise revenues and in the process the inherent rights of the tribals and forest-dwellers were restricted to the nistari rights
· In 1976 the Constitution was amended and forests were brought under the concurrent list to enable the Parliament to pass the Wildlife Conservation Act
· Alarming denudation of forests led to enactment of the Forest Conservation Act in 1980 by the Parliament taking away the rights of state governments to convert forest land for non-forest use.
· In 1995, T.N Godavarman filed a public interest litigation on the issue of depletion of forest areas. On 12 December 1996, forest governance got a thumbs-up as the Supreme Court expanded the scope of the term "forest".
· In T.N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad Vs Union of India and Environmental Awareness Forum, Jammu and Kashmir vs State of Jammu and Kashmir, the SC reinterpreted the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. It now included within its scope not only forests as mentioned in government record but all areas that are forests in the dictionary meaning of the term irrespective of the nature of ownership and classification thereof. The case came to be popularly known as the Godavarman case.
· Both the Godavarman and the Centre for Environmental Law (CEL), WWF vs Union of India and ors cases have led to fundamental changes that have wide impact on forest management. For example: No forest, National Park or Sanctuary can be dereserved without the approval of the Supreme Court, no non-forest activity is permitted in any National Park or Sanctuary even if prior approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 had been obtained, an interim order in 2000 prohibited the removal of any dead or decaying trees, grasses, driftwood, etc from any area comprising a National Park or Sanctuary. It was also directed that if any order to the contrary had been passed by any State government or other authorities, that order shall be stayed, new authorities, committees and agencies have been set up such as the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) and the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Agency.
· In order to advise the Supreme Court on the various issues concerning forest and wildlife conservation, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) was set up as an authority under Section 3 (3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to adjudicate on forest and wildlife related issues. In effect, the Supreme Court has assumed the management of forests on 17 September 2002 through a Gazette Notification issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The CEC comprises of 5 members representing government and NGO.
· Despite the Forest Conservation Act, no state could check the depletion of forest area nor save the dwindling wildlife.
· Enactment of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill 2006 has been seen as admission by the Government that it has committed an historical injustice by denying some of the rights of forest dwelling people.
· All through the first quarter of 2007 media reported the conflict between the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Environment and Forests over the composition of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in the T N Godavarman case. The issue of Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) continues to make headlines even as the effort to define the expertise needed to oversee conversion of forest land to non-forest use remains unresolved.
· Under the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980 any activity that requires the diversion of forest land for non-forest has to get clearance by the MoEF. But prior to the Ministry refers every proposal with complete documentation to the FAC, and the committee then takes a view on whether the forest land should be allowed to be diverted or not. FAC is the highest Government-appointed advisory body that is responsible for all clearances related to any diversion of forest land for purposes like laying of roads, water/sewerage pipelines, power projects, dams etc.
· The Supreme Court's Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) had recommended that the certain people who are well known among environmental research and activist groups and have expertise be made the members of FAC. The debate arose when the Ministry questioned the expertise of the people suggested by the CEC and its proposed its own people as experts. This created has a conflict between the Ministry and the Court. The latter stayed the reconstitution of the FAC.
· On 27th April, with about 300 development projects of international importance stalled because of the non-constitution of the Forest Advisory Committee, the Supreme Court allowed the functioning of the existing FAC with utmost urgency. The court had asked the Ministry to consider including one of the nine environmentalists suggested by CEC as member of the FAC but the Ministry refused. The stay on the FAC for the last five months had stopped new clearances for mining and industrial activities in forestland, as FAC has to clear the proposal for the ministry to issue the requisite licence. The directive from the court came with a rider to all fresh cases examined by the FAC will be considered by the CEC. The final nod will come from the apex court based on the CEC’s recommendations. The court laid down the road ahead for future clearances without explicitly vacating the stay.