The Apex Court has ordered the eviction of more than a million tribal and other forest-dwelling inhabitants from forestlands across 17 states in India, after their claim of right to forests were rejected under the Forest Rights Act-2006.
How did it happen?
It was a result of a petition filed by some concerned citizens and NGOs working for wildlife conservation. The evictions were ordered on Feb 13 but the written order was released on Wednesday. The petitioners had challenged the validity of the Forest Rights Act of 2006. They also demanded that all those whose claims over traditional forestlands are rejected under the law should be evicted by state governments as a consequence. Some of the petitioners even stated that the Law has been helping the process of deforestation and hence the loss of ecology.
What happened in the case?
The order was passed by the three-judge-bench of Navin Sinha, Indira Banerjee, and Arun Mishra. The bench gave extensive directions to the states regarding eviction of Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) from forestland. The Court has also ordered the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to make a satellite survey and place on record the encroachment positions and the position after eviction.
“The Chief Secretary shall ensure that where the rejection orders have been passed, the eviction will be carried out on or before the next date of hearing. In case the eviction is not carried out, as aforesaid, the matter would be viewed seriously by this Court”
It is estimated that around 1.17 million land ownership claims have been rejected that were made by people dependent on Forests under Forest Rights Act-2006. The three states Madhya Pradesh, Orrisa and Karnataka comprise almost 20% of the rejections. July 27 is scheduled as the next date of hearing.
What is the Forest Rights Act-2006?
Also known Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. The Act was passed with the object of undoing the ‘historic injustice’ done to the forest dwellers recognizing the rights of the forest dwellers over forestland and resources which they have been using as part of their livelihood.
The law provides giving land rights to those living on forest land for at least three generations before 31 December 2005. Such claims are usually examined by the district magistrates and forest officials.
What is it with FRA-2006?
It has been heavily criticized by both wildlife conservationists and People fighting for tribal rights. The conservationists believe that living in the forest with human intervention there are greater chances of loss of wildlife and deforestation.
While many on the other side of the spectrum believe that the tribal claims have been rejected systematically in some states and need to be reviewed. In several states, there have been reports on administrations going particularly slow on even accepting community-level claims. The implementation has been slower than it was anticipated.
What does the petitioner has to say?
Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife First, one of the organizations who filed the writ-petition told Qweed that,
“Supreme Court is focusing only on the recovery of forest land from bogus claimants whose claims stand rejected.” He further added,
“The FRA is a law meant for recognizing pre-existing forest rights only and thus not a land grant or land distribution act. Only those people in actual occupation of forest land as on 13th December 2005 are eligible as per law. Further, people belonging to Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) category, who form the bulk of the claims, have to establish a continuous 75-year occupation for eligibility.”
The other two organizations who filed the petition were, Nature Conservation Society and Tiger Research and Conservation Trust.
What has been role of the Government so far?
The Forest Rights Act was a passed during Congress-led UPA ( United Progressive Alliance) in 2006. Cut-to 2019 where the lawyers representing the government (Under BJP led National Democratic Alliance) have been accused of not arguing at all in the hearing on 13th February.
A member of Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a national forum for tribal and other forest-dwelling communities said,
” The petitioners have ignored the fact that the FRA provides not only for rights over land but also for rights to protect and conserve forests. They ignore the fact that their actions fly in the face of conservation tenets worldwide.”
Some leaders of the opposition along with a few Adivasi organizations have previously notified the Government and the Tribal Affairs Ministry about the callousness of the lawyers and their willingness to sacrifice FRA in a letter on 4 February.
At the times when indigenous people are facing threat worldwide, the people dependent on the Forests in India have an uphill task ahead.