Supreme Court agrees to hear plea on forest dwellers’ eviction
The Supreme Court would on Thursday take up the Centre’s plea for a relook into its February 13 order directing eviction of an estimated one million forest dwellers, who have encroached on forest land.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Wednesday mentioned the Centre’s application seeking a stay on the eviction before a Justice Arun Mishra-led bench, which agreed to take it up on Thursday. He pleaded the February 13 order would render lakhs of forest dwellers without shelter while saying states have summarily rejected their claims without following the due process.
The Centre submitted the court must interpret the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, under which the claims were rejected, liberally. It added the law is meant to provide succour to Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD). “The FDSTs and OTFDs are extremely poor and illiterate people and not well informed of their rights and procedure... It is difficult for them to substantiate their claims...,” the Centre said. It added that many could not establish their rights due to the presence of left-wing extremists in some areas.
The law entitles only FDSTs and OTFDs in the bona fide occupation of the forest land to cultivate and occupy it. Several non-tribals have over the years illegally occupied forest lands causing huge deforestation.
The court has directed the state chief secretaries to file compliance affidavits about the evictions before July 12. It has posted the matter for further hearing to July 24.
The Centre said the tribal welfare ministry has repeatedly attempted to sensitise the state governments while deciding the claims of the forest dwellers. “However...it has come to light that the claims ...were rejected in a summary manner...” the Centre said in its application. It added the dwellers were not even communicated about the rejection of their representation. The Centre has also raised doubts over the data various states have furnished and whether the rejection orders were passed after the observance of due process. It added it is also unknown whether there was compliance of principles of natural justice and whether the dwellers were given an opportunity to exhaust the appeal mechanism. “Without such information and compliance with the mandate of law in letter and spirit, the eviction of such tribals would amount to a serious miscarriage of justice,” the Centre application said.
The ministry said the court must seek detailed affidavits from the states regarding the procedure followed while rejecting the claims of the dwellers.
The Centre said it had pointed out to various gaps in the implementation of the law, especially in left-wing extremism-hit states in September 2014. “It was noted that the rejections of claims...were found to be very high, which were due to wrong interpretation of the Act…”.