SC order may be made pretext to attack lakhs of forest dwellers across the country
Counterview | February 20, 2019
The forest rights organization, Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), has said that the latest Supreme Court order in a case challenging the Forest Rights Act (FRA) is a major blow to the struggle of tribals and forest dwellers for justice and to the homes, lands and livelihoods of millions of our poorest people.
A CSD statement said, the Government of India, for the fourth time in a row, chose not to argue at all in the Court. “As no other party can speak effectively in defense of a law, the version of the petitioners – forest officials, ex-zamindars and a handful of wildlife NGOs – was hence taken to be the truth.”
The Supreme Court’s order directs various State governments to report on the status of people’s claims for their traditional rights over lands, forest and forest resources under the FRA, and – for some States – goes on to state that claimants whose rejections have “attained finality” should now be evicted.
According to CSD, “The fact is that numerous official and independent reports have confirmed that huge numbers of claims have been wrongly rejected and that forest officials, in particular, have a track record of illegally preventing people’s rights from being recognized. Both State and Central governments have repeatedly recognised this – but the Central government chose not to inform the Court of this basic fact.”
CSD asserts, “The Act contains no clause for eviction of rejected claimants, and in fact section 4(5) specifically prohibits eviction until the process of implementation is fully complete in an area. But this order can become a pretext for forest officials to attack lakhs of forest dwellers across the country.”
It adds, “This Act was enacted in order to remedy the historical injustice committed by the British and post independence governments, who seized forest lands without respecting people’s rights. Two thirds of this country’s forests are in areas that constitutionally belong to tribals under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.”
Wondering if another historic injustice about to be committed against tribals and other forest dwellers, CSD hopes, organisations, parties and movements would seek to have the order reviewed, even as exposing the Central government’s collusion with big companies and forest officials against forest dwellers.