UNITED Nations human rights experts have urged the Indian government to prevent the potential eviction of about nine million tribal people and forest dwellers following a Supreme Court order rejecting their forest rights claims under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (the Forest Rights Act).
The eviction order of February 13, 2019, stayed on February 28 and the relevant state governments were asked to clarify by July 12, 2019, the procedure followed them to decide the validity and merits of the claims. The Forest Rights Act was adopted in 2006 to address the historical injustice suffered by forest-dwelling peoples and scheduled tribes by providing them with an opportunity to recognise their right to occupy and use forests.
“The basic premise of this decision, which treats tribal peoples as possibly illegal residents of the forest, is wrong ‑ indigenous peoples are the owners of their lands and forests,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples said in a statement issued by the Office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Supreme Court’s eviction order was the result of a petition filed by a group of wildlife organizations who claimed that human settlements were encroaching on protected forest areas.
“This is a phenomenon seen around the world. Indigenous peoples and local communities are treated as squatters when in fact the land is theirs, and they have protected and stewarded their holdings for generations and play an important role for conservation,” the UN statement said while urging governments to seek “free prior and informed consent from the indigenous people affected, ensure compensation is adequate and that any resettlement plans are determined through a process of meaningful consultation”.
“Any eviction resulting in homelessness is a serious violation of human rights …We urge the Government of India to uphold the spirit of the Forest Right Act by safeguarding the inherent rights of scheduled tribes and other traditional forest-dwelling peoples,” Tauli-Corpuz said in the statement.