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SC order to evict more than 1 million forest Dwellers

SC order to evict more than 1 million forest Dwellers

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  • GS 2 || Governance & Social Justice || Vulnerable Sections || Tribal & PTGs

Why in News?

  • The Supreme Court has ordered time-bound expulsion of all those families whose claims under the Forest Rights Act had been rejected by the authorities.
  • The Supreme Court directed states to evict Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Traditional Forest Dweller (OTFD) whose claims over forest land have been rejected.

 Brief Background

  • The order in question was issued in the case of Wildlife First & Ors v. Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors.
  • The matter relates to the Constitutional validity of the Forests Rights Act and also questions pertaining to the preservation of forests.
  • The details regarding the claims made under the FRA, which were placed before the Court showed that of the 44 lakh claims filed, 20.5 lakh claims (46.5%) were rejected.
  • A claim is made either for individual or community rights by the people/communities covered by the FRA.

 Supreme Court’s directions

  • A three-judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee on February 13 had ordered the Chief Secretaries of many of these States to evict those whose claims as forest dwellers have been finally rejected under the law. The court directed that the eviction should be carried out on or before July 24, 2019, that is, the next date of hearing
  • The court ordered the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to make a satellite survey and place on record the “encroachment positions.” It’s directed FSI to also place on record the position “after the eviction as far as possible.”

 About Forest Rights Act (FRA)

  • The act was passed in December 2006. It deals with the rights of forest-dwelling communities over land and other resources. The Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.

 Rights under the Act:

  • Title rights – Ownership to land that is being farmed by tribals or forest dwellers, subject to a maximum of 4 hectares; ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family, meaning that no new lands are granted.
  • Use rights – to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
  • Relief and development rights – to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement; and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
  • Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife

 Problems Of OTFDs

  • One of the major limitations of the FRA is the differentiated eligibility of ST and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) claimants.
  • This is compounded by the ambiguity in the wording of the Act that has disadvantaged the latter severely.
  • OTFDs are required to prove continuous residence or dependence in the areas being claimed for three generations (75 years).
  • This dates back to a period when most of these areas were under princely states or zamindars, with no survey or land demarcation, and no government records.
  • Thus, these equally deserving communities are unable to produce documentary evidence to support their claims.

 Concerns

  • Several activists have pointed to the inaction from the forest department officials in granting forest rights to these tribal and forest dwellers, issuing land rights documents and other identity cards.
  • According to activists the tribal settlements in the Eastern Ghats have not been granted a forest rights patta due to the apathy from forest department officials and hence face the risk of eviction.
  • Tribals and other forest-dwellers have been living in the forest area for centuries. Their livelihood depends on non-timber forest products they harvest, such as food. Hence, the forest department must ensure that they get community rights documents.

 Various factors that have prevented the proper implementation of the FRA since its passage in 2006 include

  • Process of documenting communities’ claims
  • The Reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control
  • A Narrow interpretation of the FRA
  • Environment Ministry’s moves

What petitioners have to say

  • The petitioners (wildlife activists), facing criticism from forest right groups and community leaders, released a clarification, saying the Supreme Court order does not affect genuine claimants.
  • “The Supreme Court presently focuses only on recovery of forest land from bogus claimants.” It says no action has been directed against lakhs of claimants who have got titles on more than 72 lakh hectares of forest land.

Different opinions

  • The Supreme Court’s order evoked sharp reactions also because the central government did not even defend the rights of these communities in court.
  • Forest rights activists say that rejection of claims is not grounds for believing a person has no right as the claims are often turned down due to “illegal intervention” by forest officers.

Additional Info – What does the Forest Rights Act provide for?

  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act or FRA was passed by the Parliament in 2006 and came into effect in 2008.
  • It was intended to correct the “historical injustice” done to forest dwellers from the colonial times.
  • The Act recognises and vests the forest rights and occupation in forest land in the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes.
  • It also covers other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations, but whose rights could not be recorded.

The Act recognises –

  • Individual rights to forest land and livelihood
  • Community rights to forest ‘land’ exercised by their gram Sabha
  • Community forest ‘resource’ rights, giving gram sabhas the power to protect and manage their forest
  • Conservation plans and development projects in these areas would have to be approved by gram sabhas.

 Conclusion

  • The SC must safeguard the rights of tribal, especially those guaranteed by the Constitution, and must not set any precedent that would erode these rights in any way. Only the claim of illegal claimants should be rejected in order to protect forests from illegal encroachments. The government, along with the various tribal welfare group must evolve a procedure to re-affirms the claims of genuine claimants and protect the forest and wildlife from encroachers

 Mains  Question

  • Several wildlife groups have opposed the Forest Rights Act as being anti-conservation. Do you agree? Critically examine.