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This article is written by Jeffy Johnson, from School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be University). This is an exhaustive article which deals with the case analysis of the T.N. Godavarman case. 


T.N. Godavarman has played a vital role with regards to the conservation and protection of the environment. He is popularly known as ‘the Green Man’. He has numerous public interest litigations to his merits which deal with conservation ideas and creating harmony with nature. Environmental law is an area of national significance that has been witnessed with the help of many NGOs and private organisations. The apex court has played the role of a catalyst in safeguarding the environmental concerns by pronouncing various landmark judgements. This has led to the creation of a whole new level of jurisprudence which began with absolute liability. Now it includes concepts such as the polluter pays principle, sustainable development and the precautionary principle.

Facts of the case

In the case of T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India [WP (Civil) No. 202 of 1995],  the Supreme Court left behind the conventional role of an interpreter of the law and took over various roles such as of the administrator, lawmaker and policymaker. This landmark case is also known as ‘the Forest Case in India’. This is because there was a judicial overstepping the constitutional mandate when the Supreme Court took over the matters of this case. It was regarding the control and supervision of the forests of India. T.N. Godavarman lodged a writ petition in the year 1995 in the apex court of India. The main objective of the writ petition was to safeguard and protect the forest land of the Nilgiris as it was exploited through deforestation by unlawful timber activities. The main highlight of this case was that it was to conserve the forest. It was followed by a hearing at full length regarding the National Forest Policy. This was regarded as interim directions that were required in relevant matters. This was to check the enforcement and implementation of forest laws and regulation within the subcontinent of India. The Supreme Court issued directives to use the forest and its resources sustainably. And also told that it should incorporate a self-monitoring mechanism at the same time. The court stated that an implementation system should be formed at the regional and state level. This was to control the transportation of timber.

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Godavarman Thirumulpad had many critics. It deals with the environmental rights of all and also the intervention of the court. Only intervention or the encroachments of the court can be exercised only when they are required. Judicial interventions take place when the state fails in its duty to function. The most well-known interventions made by the court include the ban on the tree felling, regulate timber industries, the prohibition of mining in Kudremukh and with Aravallis, regulation of sawmills. Most notable judgement on the concept of forest governance is the imposition of levy known as Present Value for the utilization of forest land for non-forestry purposes, the establishment of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund, or CAMPA, and therefore the system of seeking prior approval from the Supreme Court for any business activity. Therefore, one man’s efforts to stop forest destruction in Gudalur led to a watershed legal intervention, which has greatly contributed to the conservation of forests. Godavarman Thirumulpad will remain within legal history. He has a high place within the hearts of conservationists.

Issues raised

  1. Whether the new interpretation of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act and forest land is violative?
  2. Whether the usage of timber for commercial purposes is justified?

Laws involved

  1. The Constitution of India 1950
  2. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006
  3. National Forest Policy 
  4. The Forest Conservation Act 1980
  5. The Environment Protection Act 1986
  6. The Wildlife Protection Act 1972
  7. The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act 1978

Critical analysis

The problem regarding the deterioration of the environment and majorly damage to the forests which are rich in natural resources started with the increasing needs of the people arising thanks to rapid climb of industrialization, migration of individuals from rural to urban areas, need for more land for cultivation, housing and other purposes due to overpopulation, etc. Huge chunks of forest lands were being cleared and used for non-forest or commercial purposes like that of mining, illegal felling of timber resulting in deforestation etc.

Forests which are alleged to be the foremost valuable assets as the sustainability of a nation and its people depend upon it for they supply us with eminent natural resources were being exploited to an excellent extent which too without the adoption of compensatory measures. Thus, leaving little or no scope for the replenishment of such resources, which is an act of high risk because without such resources the longer term of the country would be shrouded within the dark clouds of insecurity and scarcity of essential resources. 

The court evaluated and examined the National Forest Policy and the Forest Conservation Act 1980. This was to cover the aspects of deforestation. It also examined the word Forest according to the new definition and is subject to  Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act 1980. This section states that no state government or any other authority can make use of land of the forest for any non-forestry activities through the prior permission of the Central Government. Concerning the new interpretation of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act and forest land, it can not de-reserve safeguarded forest for commercial activities without consent. This means all forest ventures require the permission of the Central Government. For example activities such as a sawmill, mining and plywood factory can function with the approval of the Central Government.

A complete restriction is there on the transportation of cut trees and timber from any part of the seven northeastern states of India. There should be no movement of wood through rail, road or waterways from these parts. The India railways and the state authorities have taken restrictive measures to protect and ensure there is no violation. The defendants were also asked to find substitutes for wood. A high power committee was formed to look into the implementation of the verdict and the orders made by the court. The committee formulates inventory of timber and its commodities that the forest uses to transport the depots and mills in that area. The high power committee gave strength to allow the usage and the sale of timber goods if it was recognised by the State Forest Corporation.

The licenses that were with all the wood-based industries were cancelled. A new action plan was instituted by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest. This was to make the intensive patrolling and safeguarding measure more stringent. And at the same time identify vulnerable spots as per the quarterly report submitted and approved by the Central Government. The important highlight of the case is the presence of the Indian Constitution, which deals with the powers of the Central and State governments concerning safeguarding and protection of the natural resources from illegal activities. Article 48A mentions that the state will venture to secure and enhance the environment and also features a duty to guard the forest and wildlife of our nation. Article 51A bestows on all the citizens of India the requirement to conserve and uplift the natural environment comprising rivers, lakes, forests, wildlife and to possess benevolence towards all living beings. 

Implications made

It is a crucial state of affairs of the environment especially of the forests, T.N. Godavaraman, understanding the plight of the forest and being a responsible citizen of India, couldn’t resist but resort to revolt against such illegal practices. He knocked the doors of the Indian judiciary in search of some help from the Supreme Court. This was to curb such practices which were causing harm to the forests and environment. He sought to the apex court by filing a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) expecting the support of the court and a legal remedy to mitigate the loss being caused to the forests and therefore the natural environment by excessive non-forest activities on forest lands. 

It facilitated in reducing the errors in the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act. It ensured the proper and effective operation of the same. There was a complete restriction and prohibition on unlawful activities such as deforestation to make use of the forest land. That is using the forest land for industrial purposes like cutting and transportation of timber and other valuable resources of the forest. This was done to incorporate new government bodies to invigilate forest norms and policies. To ensure that there is a regulatory forwork and mechanism to ensure that the forest stays protected. Due to this judgement, it paved the way to transparency and better implementation of environmental laws in the country.

This case is a peak of continuous mandamus. It is the best example of judicial activism and also for judicial empowering. It also highlights certain adverse aspects of unreasonable judicial dominance and its lacunas. This case established the role of the apex court and other prominent authorities in dispersing justice. Continuous mandamus means when the court delays in decision making and goes on up to 20 years and the case is still not over. In every hearing, new directives are being issued. The court also surpassed the doctrine of separation of power. It acted irrationally and arbitrarily. Therefore this case showcases both merits that are the protection of the environment. And also the demerits of overstepping its mandate and interfering with other authorities.

Negative aspects of the Judgment

The judgment made by the Supreme Court led to the creation of a large black market of timber. This facilitated illegal activities in the forest land such as deforestation to make use of the land for non-forestry activities. There was excessive intervention made by the court in the functioning and working of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Due to this, the Ministry of Environment and Forest did not have a voice of their own; they were always overpowered by the directions made by the court and its authorities. This case led to the monopolisation of all powers in the hands of the Central Government. Now only the Central Government had the authority to decide concerning environmental laws in India.

Although these stated above are the negative aspects of the judgement. But there are numerous benefits concerning the conservation of forest land from the vicious timber mafia. This case showcases the relevance of environmental justice in the court. And also the role of environmental authorities. It highlighted the role played by the judicial authorities and the court in exercising their intervention on aspects of environmental matters. This case witnessed the role played by environmental authorities, courts and other related stakeholders.


This case highlighted the need for maintaining and promoting forest productivity. It facilitates the conservation of biological diversity. As well as safeguarding and protecting environmental conditions were discussed in this case. The outcome of the T.N. Godavarman v. Thirumulpas witnesses the decline and the closure of numerous timber industries. It also created environment awareness among the citizens of India. It prohibited deforestation strictly. This case has acted as a stimulus in environmental conservation and protection on a large scale. The main contribution of this case was the efficient and smooth operation of various laws in carrying out environmental activities.


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