The Supreme Court has stayed its February 13 order directing the eviction of forest dwellers whose claims over the traditional forest lands were rejected under the law. The Supreme Court has asked the states to submit the details of the process adopted to assess the claims as well as the authorities that decided on these claims. The Supreme Court will continue hearing the case on July 10, 2019.
State chief secretaries have been directed to submit details of the process followed for rejection of claims over forest land, and the procedure followed for determining the forest rights as well as whether the state level monitoring committees actually monitored the process or not.
The Supreme Court was hearing a plea filed by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs which sought a modification of the apex court’s February 13 order, as well as a temporary stay on the implementation of the same. The Centre stated that the Forest Rights Act is a welfare legislation and must be construed as such for the benefit of the poor and illiterate forest dwellers.
The Supreme Court had directed around 17 states to evict those Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDSTs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) whose claims under the Forest Rights Act were rejected. Nearly 1 million tribal people across the country were at the risk of eviction from various forestlands.
According to Bar and Bench, when the hearing commenced on Thursday, Justice Arun Mishra asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta why the Centre was “caught in a slumber” and approached the Court only now when the previous order in the case was passed in 2016.
According to the Forest Act 2006, persons who have been either traditionally residing in forests or forestland for over 75 years and/or traditionally dependent on forest produce for livelihood are the eligible and rightful claimants to these areas.
The Act also recognises other rights to tribals and traditional forest dwellers in India, including rights to waterbodies, the right and power to protect, conserve and manage community forest resources, and conversion of all types of forest villages and settlements to revenue villages, among others.