SC Orders Forced Eviction Of Over 10 Lakh Tribal & Forest Dwellers
In a significant order, the Supreme Court on February 13 has ordered the eviction of over 10 lakh tribals and other traditional forest dwellers from forestlands across 16 Indian states. The move came after the Central government failed to defend the Forest Rights Act, which protects their rights. The written order was released on February 20.
What does the Supreme Court order say?
Reportedly, the number of tribals who will eventually end up getting evicted from their homes will rise as more and more states will be made to comply with the Supreme Court order. The latest Supreme Court orders came after it heard petitions challenging the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The petitions were filed by a group of wildlife activists who demanded that for those people whose claims over traditional forest land was rejected under the act should be evicted by the state governments, reported Business Standard. The orders were passed by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee.
Reportedly, the Centre’s lawyers were absent from the hearing that day, which led the three-judge bench to pass the order, thereby giving states date till July 27 to evict tribals whose claims have been rejected. Each state is then supposed to submit a report to the apex court. “Let Forest Survey of India (FSI) make a satellite survey and place on record the encroachment positions and also state the positions after the eviction as far as possible,” read the court order.
What is the FRA?
According to the affidavits which have been filed by at least 16 states, about 11,27,446 forest rights claims made by Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) have been rejected on various grounds. Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Odisha have seen the largest number of rejections of claims. Under the FRA, any rejection or modification of claims should be informed to the claimants and their appeals should be heard before final disposal of claims.
The FRA, which was passed by the UPA-I government in 2006 recognized the traditional forest dwellers the rights over land and community forest resources. The law empowers the Gram Sabhas as statutory authority for determining rights, making claims, verification of claims as well as for management of forests. It also provides that no tribals and forest dwellers can be evicted from forest land as their rights get recognized and vested. Ever since the inception of the act, the FRA has been faced with strong criticism and opposition from forest officials and wildlife groups where the latter has claimed that the law is unconstitutional and has led to deforestation.
Tribals risk losing land
Talking to The Logical Indian, Tushar Dash of Community Forest Rights Learning and Advocacy- a group that creates awareness on FRA said, “According to recent data, over 50% of the claims have been rejected without even following the due procedure. Moreover, most of the rejections are illegal as the rejected claims have not been reviewed by the state governments to ensure information to the claimants and hearing of appeals as required under the law.” He said that once a claim has been rejected, it cannot be disposed of before the claimants have been informed and given an opportunity to appeal.
He further stated that the eviction order comes as a real threat to the lakhs of forest dwellers who are at the risk of losing their livelihoods and homes. The case is even more grave for those whose claims have been illegally rejected he said. Moreover, for states which have already started the process of reviewing claims, their efforts will be undermined.
Reportedly, on the day of the hearing, Congress President Rahul Gandhi had blamed the Centre of being a ‘silent spectator.’ It is indicating its intentions to drive out lakhs of tribals and poor farmers from the forests,” he had said, reported Scroll.