State of Kerala & ANR Vs. The Pullangode Rubber & Produce Co. Ltd.
 INSC 231 (27
R.C.Lahoti, N.Santosh Hedge Bharucha, J.
APPEAL NO.4253/1984 AND CIVIL APPEAL NO.4423/1984 :
Rubber & Produce Co. Ltd.
referred to as the company) is the appellant in Civil Appeal No.4423 of 1984.
It owned 3687.48 acres of land, on 2148.28 acres of which rubber trees were
said land fell within the Malabar District of the State of Madras prior to the
coming into force of the States Reorganisation Act, 1956; thereafter it fell
within the State of Kerala. The said land was governed by the
Madras Preservation of Private Forest Act, 1949, immediately before the
appointed day, 10th
May, 1971, under the Kerala
Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971 (hereinafter referred to as
the said Act).
said Act was enacted to provide for the vesting of private forests in the State
Government and the assignment thereof to agriculturists and agricultural labourers
for cultivation. Section 2 of the said Act defined private forest to mean, in
relation to the Malabar District aforementioned, land to which the Madras
Preservation of Private Forests Act, 1949, applied immediately before the
appointed day under the said Act, excluding, inter alia, lands which are used
principally for the cultivation of tea, coffee, cocoa, rubber, cardamom or
cinnamon and lands used for any purposes ancillary to the cultivation of such
crops or for the preparation of the same for the market.
company contended, among other things, that an area of 594.78 acres out of the
said land was not a private forest within the meaning thereof quoted above
being uncultivated jungle area reserved for fuel purpose for manufacture of
rubber, for use of labourers employed in the estate numbering about 1000, and
for green manure/mulching ancillary to the plantation and rocky area. It was
stated in the companys claim statement thus :
is a chunk of land overgrown with wild growth whose retension with the
applicant is absolutely necessary for reasons more than one. It is the only
source of firewood necessary for the use as fuel for the manufacture of rubber
and the vast plantations owned by the applicant depend for their economic
exploitation on the firewood made available by the bit of jungle area. The
firewood required by the large contingent of labourers and members of the staff
employed in the estate is also supplied by this area.
also constituted the sole source of green manure so vitally required by the
rubber plantations ground, which would be in their absence devoid of manure.
Besides they are also the grazing ground for the cattle of the petitioner and
Forest Tribunal constituted under the said Act which adjudicated the Companys
claim noted :
date of commencement of the Act is 10.5.1971. So the state of affairs as on
that date has to be considered.
requirement of firewood may increase as years go by.
point to be considered is whether this vast extent of jungle area was being
used for taking firewood and not whether this property is not (sic) required by
the petitioner to meet all its needs regarding firewood.
Tribunal discussed the evidence of the witness on behalf of the company and the
stock books that it had produced. It noted that the stock books, especially
those prior to 1971, did not show that firewood was being regularly supplied to
the workers and staff. According to the witness, firewood was necessary for
making charcoal for sharpening the tools for tapping and for other maintenance
work in the companys estate. He had also stated that firewood was being
supplied to the canteen and the hospitals in the estate. The stock registers of
the period prior to 10th
May 1971, the Tribunal
found, did not show that considerable quantities of firewood were being used
for these purposes at that time. Further, in the Tribunals view, the
requirements of firewood for the domestic use of workers and staff for
converting into charcoal and for supplying to the hospital and canteen could
not be stated to be purposes ancillary to the cultivation of rubber or for the
preparation of the same for the market. The companys witness had stated that it
was a condition of employment in the company that it would supply firewood free
and so the workers were allowed to collect firewood. He had also stated that
such a condition was contained in the written agreement between the workers
union and the management of the company, but no such agreement was produced and
it was also not known whether such agreement was prior to or subsequent to 10th May, 1971. The Tribunal found, based upon the
evidence, that there were miscellaneous trees in the companys estate, at least
on the boundaries thereof, which could be cut and used for firewood; also, that
vast areas within the said land had been clear-felled during the period
1964-71, as could be seen from clear- felling permits on the record. The
Tribunal concluded that there would have been no necessity for cutting any
trees from the jungle area of 594.78 acres, at least prior to 10th May, 1971. It found that the companys case
that firewood had been taken from this area did not appear probable and true.
There was also no satisfactory material to show that this area was being used
by the company at the commencement of the said Act for obtaining firewood for
use in the smoke- houses in its estate. The Tribunal concluded that this area
of 594.78 acres was a private forest under the said Act.
appeal in this behalf, along with other appeals, was considered by a Five Judge
Bench of the Kerala High Court and its judgment and order is under challenge
before us. The High Court said that the question was whether the supply of
firewood for staff and workmen could be treated as satisfying a purpose
ancillary to cultivation and whether the smoke-house needs were relatable to
use of land in the preparation of rubber for the market. It added that the
further problem was of fixing up the jungle area which could reasonably be
ear-marked for the purpose. It held that the supply of firewood to the
employees could not be said to be a purpose ancillary to the cultivation of the
plantation crops, and in this regard it followed the judgment of this Court in Chettian
Veetil Ammad & Anr. vs. Taluk Land Board & Ors., [1980 (1) SCC 499]. It then
proceeded to consider whether the use of land for supply of firewood for
smoke-house purposes would exempt the land, and held that it would. It then said
next point is what area of the jungle land could be excluded on the above
basis? A precise assessment will almost be impossible, because the quantum of
fire-wood needed for smoking purposes will depend on the volume of rubber to be
processed, the yield of the trees, the quality of the wood and other factors.
The best solution seems to be to make an approximate assessment as was made by
the Taluk Land Board in Ammads case (supra). Taking into account the finding of
the Tribunal that the yield in 1971 was lower, and that dry branches of rubber
trees are also likely to be available for fire-wood purposes, we fix the extent
as 75 acres. The Company is in appeal from the decision of the High Court in so
far as it relates to the aspect of supply of firewood to its staff. The State
is in appeal (C.A. No.4253 of 1984) in so far as the decision relates to the
aspect of firewood for the smoke-house.
necessary first, we think, to construe the definition of private forest in the
said Act. It means, as aforestated, in relation to the erstwhile Malabar
District of the State of Madras, land to which the Madras Preservation of
Private Forests Act applied immediately before 10th May, 1971, being the
appointed day under the said Act, but excluding, inter alia, lands which are
used principally for the cultivation of tea, coffee, cocoa, rubber, cardamom or
cinnamon and lands for any purpose ancillary to the cultivation of such crops
or to the preparation for the same to the market. Such lands so used are,
therefore, not private forests within the meaning of the said Act. Now what this
means is that lands in the Malabar District aforementioned which are used (a)
principally for the cultivation of tea, coffee, cocoa, rubber, cardamom or
cinnamon, (b) for any purpose ancillary to the cultivation of such crops, and
(c) for the preparation of such crops for the market are not private forests
under the said Act. The use of the words are used in this context necessarily
refers to such use as on the appointed date under the said Act, namely, 10th
May, 1971. It is not possible to give any other meaning to the words are used.
They must relate to use on that particular day for it is on that day that land
is or is not a private forest within the meaning of the said Act.
therefore, is necessary for a claimant for exemption to establish in regard to
land within the aforementioned Malabar District is that on 10th May, 1971, its
lands were being used principally for the cultivation of tea, coffee, cocoa,
rubber, cardamom or cinnamon or that they were being used on that day for any
purpose ancillary to the cultivation of such crops or that they were being used
on that day for the preparation of such crops for the market.
turn to the question whether land used for providing firewood to a rubber
estates smoke-houses and its workers is land that is not a private forest
within the meaning of the said Act. The question is now answered by the
judgment of this Court in Pioneer Rubber Plantation, Nalambur, Kerala State vs.
State of Kerala and another [1992 (4) SCC 175]. The majority on the Bench of
three learned Judges held that it appeared reasonable that the area required
for the purpose of growing firewood trees for fuel in the factories and
smoke-houses (of rubber plantations) as well as for supply to the employees of
the estate for their domestic use should be excluded from the definition of the
term private forest.
High Court was, therefore, right in holding that land used for supplying
firewood for the smoke-houses of the company was excludible from the definition
of private forest under the said Act. The consequential question is whether the
High Court was right in making an assessment thereof as indicated above and
fixing an extent of 75 acres in this behalf. The answer must be in the
demonstrated above by an analysis of the definition, it was for the company to
plead and establish by evidence that on 10th May, 1971 the land admeasuring 594.78 acres
or some specific part thereof was being used for supplying firewood to its
smoke-houses and its workmen. As the companys claim statement before the
Tribunal, which we have quoted above, shows, it had not even made an averment
that the area of 594.78 acres or some specific part thereof was being used on 10th May, 1971 for supplying firewood to its
smoke-houses or its workmen. Even so, and concentrating very properly on the
date 10th May, 1971, the Tribunal discussed the companys
evidence, oral and documentary, in some detail. It found, and rightly, that the
evidence did not establish that this acreage of land or any specific part
thereof was being used by the company for these purposes on 10th May, 1971. In
the absence of evidence the companys claim must fail in regard to the entire
area of 594.78 acres.
same proceeding, the company contended before the Tribunal that two areas of land
(R.S. 1032 admeasuring 28.40 acres and R.S. 1964 admeasuring 37.75 acres) were
wooded areas in enclaves surrounded by its rubber plantation and that these
should not be considered private forests.
Tribunal noted the evidence of the companys witness that if such land was
treated as a forest vested in the State, the companys surrounding plantation
would be jeopardised. The Tribunal found that it could not be held that these
were lands utilised for any purpose covered by the definition quoted above and held
them to be private forests. The High Court, in appeal, noted that the wooded
area of 28.40 acres in R.S. 1032 was an enclave surrounded by rubber trees but
that the area of 37.75 acres in R.S.
lay on the boundary of the companys estate. The High Court, being unsatisfied
with the evidence in this behalf, rejected the companys claim in regard to
these two areas of the said land, and the company is in appeal.
attention was drawn by learned counsel for the company to the judgment of this
Court in Bhavani Tea and Produce Co. Ltd. vs. State of Kerala and Ors. [1991(2) SCC 463]. Among
other claims in this matter was a claim by the appellant tea company that
certain areas of land within its plantation were excluded from the purview of
the said Act. A Bench of two learned Judges of this Court said that the said
Act, the Kerala Forest Act, the Kerala Land Reforms Act and the Madras
Preservation of Private Forest Act considered plantations as units by providing
that they would include land used for ancillary purposes as well.
while applying the said Act, the same principle was applicable. Accordingly, it
was reasonable to take each division of the plantation as a unit and apply the
principle aforementioned. Based thereon, this Court held that plots admeasuring
25.08 acres, 1.65 acres, 3.82 acres, 10.70 acres, 10.58 acres, 8.10 acres and
24.84 acres formed small portions of the respective divisions of the plantation
and could be taken to have been principally cultivated.
these plots were found to be exempt from vesting under the said Act.
respectfully agree, having regard particularly to the words in the definition,
lands which are used principally for the cultivation of ...................,
where the large part of a parcel of land is used for plantation of the
specified crops leaving only a small part within not so cultivated, it is
reasonable to say that the parcel of land as a whole is used principally for
the cultivation of the specified crops. The principle would apply in the instant
case to the land admeasuring 28.40 acres in R.S. 1032 because it is an enclave
within the companys plantation of 2148.28 acres. The area of 37.75 acres in
R.S. 1964 is on the periphery of the companys plantation and there is nothing
to suggest that it is bounded elsewhere also by a rubber plantation. The
exemption, therefore, cannot be made applicable to R.S.
parting with these appeals we must mention that they were ordered to be heard
by a three Judge Bench because it had been contended, based upon the decision
in the case of Bhavani Tea and Produce Co. Ltd. (supra), that a cultivated
plantation was excluded from the operation of the Madras Preservation of
Private Forest Act. No such argument has been advanced before us, even after we
pointed out the referral order. It is, therefore, not necessary for us to
consider the correctness of the decision in Bhavani Tea and Produce Co. Ltd. in
APPEAL NO.4925 OF 1985 :
State is in appeal and the respondent is not represented. The High Court made
an assessment of the land claimed to be used for providing firewood trees or a
fire-belt and exempted an area of 15 acres, taking the total extent of the
land, the nature of land and other aspects into consideration. As we have
pointed out above, it is for the claimant to establish by appropriate evidence
that the land in respect of which he seeks an exemption was being used on the
appointed day under the said Act for a purpose which falls within the exception
to the definition quoted above and that no assessment of this kind is
judgment of the High Court is, therefore, erroneous.
result, Civil Appeal No.4253 of 1984 is allowed and the order of the High Court
in so far as it exempts an area of 75 acres from the purview of the said Act is
set aside. Civil Appeal No.4423 of 1984 is allowed only to the extent that an
area of 28.40 acres in R.S. 1032 is exempt from the purview of the said Act.
Civil Appeal No.4925 of 1985 is allowed and the judgment and order of the High
Court is set aside in its entirety.