1. In this matter, considering the provisions of the Maharashtra Private Forest (Acquisition) Act, 1975, as also the provisions of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, I find myself unable to agree with the petitioners that the petitioners have any interest in the land in question which land has, in an inquiry qua the owner thereof, been held to be a private forest covered by the aforesaid Acquisition Act, Indeed, the petitioners have been mere licensees with permission of the owner to quarry. The status of the petitioners is no higher and no better than that of a mere licensee. The interest of the petitioners is not that of even a lessee or an under-lessee. It is not open to the petitioners to challenge the declaration qua of the land in question as a forest, Person entitled to challenge the same was the owner of the land. He in fact did challenge it and an inquiry in that behalf, was in fact held. But at the inquiry, he does not appear to have seriously contested the issue as to whether the land in question was or was not a private forest. Whatever that be, in the said inquiry, dispute such as is contemplated under Section 6 of the Acquisition Act was decided against the owner and the land was held to be a private forest, In the face of this decision, I do not see how the petitioners herein who were mere licensees from the original owner can raise the dispute which they are now seeking to raise to the effect that the land in question is not covered by the Acquisition Act.
2. Heavy reliance was sought to be placed on Section 6 of the Acquisition Act. The provisions of the said section have to be construed and interpreted in the light of the other provisions of the Act including the object and purpose of the said Act and when we turn to the other provisions, we find that there is in fact a specific provision viz.. Section 12 which clearly provides that if any person other than the owner of the private forest is aggrieved by any provisions of the said Act as extinguishing any right enjoyed by him and such person proves that such extinguishment amounts to the transference to the State Government or to the public ownership of such right, such person may apply to the Collector for payment of amount for such extinguishment. That then is the entire right conferred on the persons such as the petitioners herein viz., the right to claim amount or compensation for extinguishment of the petitioners' rights to quarry the land in their capacity as licensees under the owner.
3. Reliance was also sought to be placed on a Full Bench decision of this Court in J. C. Waghmare v. State, : AIR1978Bom119 and, in particular, to the observations at page 147. If we take the observations out of context, the same may suggest that even a person such as the petitioners herein may be entitled to raise a dispute under Section 6. But one cannot ignore the fact that the observations are made in the context of persons who had far better and far higher rights in the land in question than the petitioners herein who as indicated, were mere licencees. I am of the view that the petitioners cannot be raised to the status of persons interested. Even as against the original owner, the petitioners could have, at the highest, claimed damages or compensation for breach of the licence between the parties, certainly, the petitioners cannot claim any higher right than that as against the State Government.
4. It also cannot be lost sight of that the object of the Acquisition Act would well stand considerably delayed and even, to an extent, frustrated if even licencees are to heard not on the question of compensation or amount that may be due to them by virtue of extinguishment of their right but also on the question relating to the nature of the land and on the question whether the land in question is or is not a private forest within the meaning of the afore said Act, Indeed, this very case is an instance of the said nature. The appointed date in the present case was 30th August, 1975 and it is as late as 14th August, 1980 that the petitioners herein sought to raise a dispute to the effect that the land in question was not a private forest within the meaning of the Acquisition Act, If such disputes are to be entertained at the instance of licencees long after the appointed date as also after dispute between the owner' and the Government stands adjudicated upon, doing so would never give any finality to the nature and character of a particular land as a forest land or otherwise within the meaning of the Acquisition Act.
5. Furthermore, I am also of the view that even if the petitioners were heard on merits on the nature and character of the land in dispute viz., gat No. 59/1 measuring about 200 acres, it was impossible to come to any finding that the same was not a private forest within the meaning of the Acquisition Act. Merely because the petitioners have been, for some time, quarrying on an area of about seven acres out of a total area of about 200 acres, that cannot convert the real nature and character of the land in question. In the circumstances, there was hardly anything that the petitioners could have argued on the merits of the dispute. In fact, even the record of rights and the revenue records all throughout show this gat No. 59/1 as forest land.
6. In this view of the matter, I see little merit in this petition. The same, therefore, fails and is rejected.
7. The learned counsel for the petitioners prays that status quo may be maintained for a period of two weeks from today. Mr. Kanuga, the learned Government Pleader, opposes. I am inclined to grant the prayer on behalf of the petitioners on condition that the petitioners also must maintain status quo so far as the land and the material thereon are concerned for the same period of two weeks from today and should not carry on any further quarry operations and should not remove any materials form the land in question. On this condition, the Government will not evict the petitioners from the land for a period of two weeks from today.
8. Petition dismissed.