The ruling given by the three-member bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee on the 13th of February paved way for the eviction of more than a million indigenous tribals living in the protected forested area of the country that amounts to about 5% of the land resources. As per the order, the households whose claim over forestland had been rejected are to be evicted by the state. The apex court gave the 17 states time till the 27th of July to implement the judgement. If implemented, this is single-handedly going to become the largest legally sanctioned migration in independent India.

The petition was filed by some nature and wildlifepreservation groups expressing their concerns regarding the Traditional ForestDwellers Act (2006) which gives the rights to ancient tribal communities to live in and manage the jungles. The petitioners believe that this autonomy is resulting in the encroachment of the diminishing forest reserve of India.

WHATIS THE SCHEDULED TRIBES AND OTHER TRADITIONAL FOREST DWELLERS ACT (2006)?

This law is concerned with the rights of forest-dwelling communities, their access to resources like land that have been denied to them over centuries due to the implementation of forest laws by the colonial government. The indigenous tribal communities in India have a longstanding relation with forests and the natural resources. Over the years their lifestyle has integrated a lot of aspects that includes parts of forests. The Act was both highly appreciated and criticised, supporters of the act claim that this is a measure to correct the years of historical injustice to the Adivasis, while the dissenters believe that this provides a channel for destruction of the wildlife, and the autonomy of the tribals over the forest cover in this country could possibly threaten the conservation measures.

WHAT IS THE ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA TO AVAIL THE BENEFITS OF THE ACT?

This act limits itself for those who primarily reside in forests and who depend on forests for their livelihood. The claimant must be from the Scheduled Tribes scheduled in that particular area or must have been residing in the forest for 75 years.  

Section 4(2) of the Act lays out a procedure by which people can be resettled from areas if it is found to be necessary for wildlife conservation. The first step is to show that relocation is scientifically necessary and there is no other alternative available; this has to be done through a process of public consultation. The second step is to get the consent of local community to the resettlement. Finally, the resettlement must provide not only compensation but also, a secure livelihood .

In Chhattisgarh, where 54% of forest rights claims have been rejected, the Congress government has decided to present before the SC that it is reviewing all the rejected claims and would require some time to evaluate the claims with caution.

“We would first represent before the court that over half of the claims were rejected,” a government spokesperson said. “These need to be reviewed and we would need time. There was poor awareness about how to file claims and the tribals have suffered because of this.” 

The government is now in the process of training its departments – including forest, tribal affairs and other departments in filing claims and reviewing the cases, the person said. “This has just been completed. Now whatever BJP government has rejected, that needs to be reviewed. We would start that now. In case the court does not give time, we will file a review petition.” 

In the neighbouring Jharkhand, where 27% of the claims have been rejected, Congress and its ally JMM have started state-wide protests against the order. “We have a long-term action plan where we will create awareness on how to file forest rights claims and what rights forest dwellers have,” said Ajoy Kumar, Jharkhand state Congress president. 

Congress has accused BJP government of favouring private companies and unlawfully evicting tribals from their rightful land in Jharkhand.
Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh has already formed a committee to review the cases and suggest the future course of action. 

The Opposition has tapped into an opportunity in these tribal-dominated states ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. 

  Sources: The Wire, The Hindu, Economic Times, The Week, Bloomberg Quint


Image Source: YouTube, Fra.org, The Hindu

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