Eviction of STs from forest; Centre seeks modification

The Union government has approached the Supreme Court for modification of the February 13 order to 21 state governments for eviction of lakhs of STs and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers whose claims have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

The Union government has approached the Supreme Court for modification of the February 13 order to 21 state governments for eviction of lakhs of Forest Dwelling STs (FDSTs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) whose claims have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Wednesday mentioned the application before a bench presided over by Justice Arun Mishra. He urged the court to stay the order.

"The FDSTs and OTFDs are extremely poor and illiterate people and not well informed of their rights and procedure under the Act. They live in remote and inaccessible areas of the forest. It is difficult for them to substantiate their claims before the competent authorities," the Centre said. 

A bench of Justices Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee had directed chief secretaries of various states, including of Karnataka, to explain as why after the rejection of the claims, which have attained finality, eviction has not been made.

In its application, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs said with the top court's order, "a large number of tribal and other forest dwellers would be liable to be evicted by the state governments without observance of due process of law."

"In the respectful submission of the applicant, under the Act, the rejection of a claim does not ipso facto lead to eviction of a tribal.There is no provision in the Act that provides for eviction after a claim is rejected," it said. 

The government said it was a historical fact that in the colonial era, British had diverted abundant forest wealth of the nation to meet its economic needs. While procedure for settlement of rights was provided under statutes such as the Indian Forest Act, 1927, these were hardly followed on the ground. 

As a result, tribal and forest dwelling communities, which had been living within the forests in harmony with the environment and the ecosystem; continued to live inside the forests in a precarious state of tenurial insecurity, a situation which continued even after independence due to highly marginalised nature of such communities, it added.

The government further said it was uncertain whether the data furnished by the state governments accurately indicated, whether the rejection orders were passed after observance of due process of law, compliance with principles of natural justice and whether appeal mechanisms have been properly exhausted.

The top court's order has caused a huge furore with political parties asking the government to seek its review for its possible adverse impact on a large number of population.

Dealing with a 2008 writ petition filed by NGO 'Wildlife First' and others, the court directed for filing of the requisite affidavit with necessary details on or before July 12, 2019.

It ordered the states where the verification or reverification or review process was pending to do the needful within four months and report back to the 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,” the court directed.

Notably, Section 6 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 provided a multi-layered and hierarchical procedure for recognition or rejection of forest-dweller claims starting at the gram sabha level with multiple appellate committees at the state level.

The Act provided a framework to "recognize and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded".

In Karnataka, 48,432 claims have been filed by STs and 2,27,014 by OTFDs. Out of these, 35,521 claims of STs and 1,41,019 claims of OTFDs have been rejected.

The claims of thousands of STs and OTFDs were rejected in states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Manipur.

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Eviction of STs from forest; Centre seeks modification

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