In the unprecedented case of Samata vs. State of Andhra Pradesh Judgment,1997, popularly known as the Samata Judgment, the Supreme Court of India, delivered an authoritative decision in favour of the right to livelihood of the tribals inhabiting the scheduled areas of the country. In this case, the judiciary reached its pinnacle in upholding the rights of the tribal community. The Samata Judgment is an outcome of sustained people’s struggle to safeguard their land, resources and livelihood in tribal belts of Andhra Pradesh. The judgement had ramification across the country. The petitioning organisation, “Samata” had been working for the rights of the people for several years and had filed the case to overcome the hurdles created by the State to acknowledge and deliver on issues of fundamental human rights.
Owing to such whimsical decisions by the government ignoring the rights and resources of the people, Samata took up the fight for the rights of adivasi communities who would be displaced and affected by private mining companies. A PIL was filed in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh in 1993 on the grounds that the government was also a ‘person’ and hence does not have power to grant leases in a scheduled area to non-tribals. After sustained struggle for four years, the Supreme Court in July 1997, delivered the landmark Samata Judgment.
What does the Judgment Say?
The essential theme of Samata Judgment is the concept of sustainable development and the protective principle. The Supreme Court in the judgment stated that tribal people can exploit minerals in scheduled areas without disturbing the ecology or the forest lands either individually or through co-operative society with financial assistance from the state. The Court further held that in the absence of the prohibition on the transfer of lands, any licensee or lease must provide certain duties and obligations to the tribal people who are affected by the project. However the court noted that the transfer of tribal land to state owned agencies or corporations is excluded from such prohibitions. The court also stated that atleast 20% of the profit from any project must be set aside as a permanent fund for the affected tribal people’s development needs in addition to any expenditure on reforestation and maintenance of ecology. The court also directed the Prime Minister to develop a national scheme based on the guidelines laid down in the judgment in relation to tribal lands throughout the country.
The Supreme Court through this judgment opened another panorama for judicial intervention, and ensured that the forest communities enjoy the rights and protections assured to them under our Constitution, such that slowly but surely, we would achieve the erudite ideals of equality before law, leading to social equality. The Honourable Judges recognising the plight of the tribals in independent India rightly emphasised on the ‘Right to Development’ as declared by United Nations in the ‘Right to Development Convention’. The Judgment in this regard made special emphasis on idea of ‘Social Democracy’ -as defined by Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar- way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. Recognising the highest Constitutional provision of ‘Right to Life’ as envisaged in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the Judgment stated that ‘tribals also have equal rights to social and economic empowerment.As a part of rights to development, to enjoy full freedom, the lands in the scheduled areas are to be preserved for social economic empowerment of the tribals.