Mixed response to SC order on eviction of forest dwellers

While some non-government organisations urged the SC to withdraw the order till a proper rehabilitation policy is drawn up, others welcomed the order saying the law had resulted in “fragmentation” of forest land.
While some non-government organisations urged the SC to withdraw the order till a proper rehabilitation policy is drawn up, others welcomed the order saying the law had resulted in “fragmentation” of forest land.(REUTERS)
While some non-government organisations urged the SC to withdraw the order till a proper rehabilitation policy is drawn up, others welcomed the order saying the law had resulted in “fragmentation” of forest land.(REUTERS)
Updated on Feb 22, 2019 07:07 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondent

Civil society organisations have expressed “shock” at the Supreme Court order directing 17 states to evict an estimated one million tribal and other households living in forests after their claims on the right to live in forests were rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA).

While some non-government organisations on Thursday urged the top court to withdraw the order till a proper rehabilitation policy is drawn up, others welcomed the order saying the law had resulted in “fragmentation” of forest land.

The National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM), on behalf of around 20 civil society leaders including former National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy, said it was “outraged” at the order.

“The implementation of the order will result in a situation similar to what happened in 2002 when homes of forest dwellers were burnt following directions by the inspector general of forests to evict them,” an NAPM statement said.

Beacon of hope

It said the Forest Rights Act, despite its limitations, had been a beacon of hope for millions of forest-dependent people and the order would turn the wheel backwards.

“It will create chaos on the ground and will result in sounding a death knell to the historic FRA,” the statement added.

VA Ramesh Nathan, general secretary, National Dalit Movement For Justice (NDMJ), sought to know why the order was issued without putting in place a proper relocation plan for the “poor forest dwellers”.

He urged the court to withdraw the order and asked the tribal affairs ministry to “immediately” intervene in the matter to prevent harassment of the poor and deprived.

Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife First, a non-government organisation working for animal welfare, welcomed the order. In a statement on behalf of the petitioners, Bhargav said the SC was at present focusing only on recovery of forest land from bogus claimants.

“In other words, it has not directed any action in its 13.02.2019 order against lakhs of claimants who have been granted titles over a whopping 72.23 lakh hectares of forest land as per the September 2018 official statement of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA),” the statement read.

It added that after the enactment of the FRA, around 72,000 sq km of forest land had been converted to individual and community ownership.

Loss of forests

“Apart from loss of forests, granting such wide-ranging rights in scattered parcels of forest land is causing deleterious impact in the form of habitat fragmentation or breaking up of large forest blocks into smaller pieces,” the statement read.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo member Brinda Karat sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding an ordinance to protect all adivasis (tribals) and traditional forest dwellers from eviction.

“If this is not done, it will be virtual declaration of war against adivasis. It is highly regrettable that the counsel arguing for the central government was absent from the court on the crucial date. This betrayal of the rights of adivasis was the culmination of the connivance of the ministry concerned with the petitioners,” she claimed.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021