TODAY, on February 27, 2019, the Central Government moved to the Supreme Court seeking to stay possible eviction of 11.8 lakh tribal and traditional forest-dwellers whose claims for right over forest land have been rejected under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (Forest Rights Act).
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta mentioned, before the bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Naveen Sinha, the applications on behalf of the Central Government and the State of Gujarat for urgent hearing. The Court agreed to hear the matter tomorrow, February 28, 2019.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on behalf of the Center mentions before a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, the application seeking modification of the order directing eviction of tribals. Application to be heard tomorrow, February 28, 2019
— The Leaflet (@TheLeaflet_in) February 27, 2019
Background of the case
On February 13, 2019, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee, directed the State Governments to evict tribal families and traditional forest-dwellers whose claims have been rejected by the competent authority on or before July 27, 2019 – when the matter will be heard next. According to the most recent estimate, the number of persons likely to be affected by this order is 18 lakh.
The eviction order was passed by the Court on a batch of public interest litigation filed in 2008 by the Bombay Natural History Society and the Wildlife First NGO, which claimed to represent the interests of wildlife.
What does the Forest Rights Act, 2006 say?
Parliament enacted the Forest Rights Act in 2006 to give the rights to access, manage and govern forest lands and recourses within village boundaries back the traditional forest-dwellers and tribal communities.
The Forest Rights Act has been passed to undo the historical injustice inflicted on the tribal communities and traditional forest-dwellers by denying them rights to resources from forests where they have lived for generations. The Forest Rights Act aimed “to recognise 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”.
The implementation of the Forest Rights Act has been riddled with challenges, not the least of these coming from an entrenched forest bureaucracy steeped in a colonial mindset, where forest-dwellers were treated as criminal encroachers on government lands or tolerated in sufferance at best.
Maharashtra Government started eviction
Following the Supreme Court order dated February 13, 2019, directing implementation of eviction orders, the Government of Maharashtra instructed the forest officials to evict people whose title claims were rejected under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
In Maharashtra, a total of 22, 509 numbers of claims were rejected by the competent authority out of which 13,712 numbers of claims were that of Scheduled Tribes and 8,797 numbers of claims were of traditional forest-dwellers.
Madhya Pradesh (3,54,787), Karnataka (1,76,540), and Odisha (1,48,870) have the highest number of total claims submitted for consideration by the tribal families and traditional forest-dwellers for settlement.