Row over SC order to evict tribals

Row over SC order to evict tribals

Tribal women attend a protest rally in Ahmedabad on March 6, 2010. REUTERS

Days after the Supreme Court ordered eviction of lakhs of tribals from the forest land in 21 States, a political row has kicked in, with the Opposition leaders putting the blame squarely on Modi government for the fallout.

More than a week after the court's order, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah on Monday said party remains committed to the uplift of "our tribal brothers and sisters" and will do "everything" to protect their rights.

In series of tweets, he said that he has spoken to the BJP-ruled states on the "situation" arising out of the court's order.

"The states will be soon filing a review petition and care will be taken to safeguard the rights of our tribals and prevent eviction,” he said.

Last week, Congress president Rahul Gandhi asked the chief ministers of the states ruled by his party to file review petition in the court against the court's order, saying "it is time for us to work towards deepening the promise of India for everyone".

The apex court recently ordered for eviction of the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers whose land rights claims have been rejected by the state governments under the Forest Rights Act.

Opposition leader and patron of Loktantrik Janada Dal (LJD) Sharad Yadav put the blame for the court's eviction order on the Modi government, alleging that the Union government failed to present the case of tribals "properly" during the hearing of the matter in court.

He also noted that "most of the advocates" of the state governments were also not present during the hearing of the matter, saying it shows that they were not serious about the rights of the adivasis."

Yadav demanded that the Union government must file a review petition in the apex court challenging its order "for the welfare of the scheduled tribes community without losing any time".

"I strongly condemn the non-seriousness of the government of India towards protection of the rights of the adivasis (tribals) as provided in the Forest Rights Act, 2006," he said.

With 47 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the Lok Sabha, the apex court's order on the eviction of tribals from forest land is set to have its political ramifications as it came just weeks away from the elections.

At least 10 lakh people from the community are likely to be affected by the implementation of the court's order.

The row over the issue is gaining momentum with the 'Campaign for Survival and Dignity', an outfit which spearheads adivasi and forest dwellers' movements from ten states in India, deciding to hold a series of protests against the court's order in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, over the next two weeks, starting from Bhopal on February 26.

The Centre, however, is yet to clear its stand on the issue even as the tribals are one of the core constituencies of the BJP and implementation of the court's order could hit the poll prospects of the saffron party.

In a statement last week, the Union ministry for tribal affairs said it was "well aware of its responsibilities of defending the Constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act and it will do everything at its disposal to safeguard the interests of the tribals as it has been doing so far".