Modify Feb. 13 eviction order of lakhs of forest dwellers: Centre urges SC
States’ mechanism to reject claims is faulty, the Centre claimed
The Centre and the State of Gujarat filed applications on Wednesday urging the Supreme Court to modify its February 13 order directing the eviction of thousands of Scheduled Tribes (STs) and other traditional forest dwellers whose claims for forest land rights have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act of 2006.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made an urgent oral mention of the applications before the Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra, which had passed the February 13 order. The Bench agreed to hear the case on February 28.
In its application, the Centre said the claims of lakhs of forest-dwelling STs and other traditional forest dwellers were rejected by the States without observing due process of law.
The Centre refers to its letter of September 12, 2014, which speaks of the various injustices met out to the tribal populations and forest dwellers in States hit by left-wing extremism. The Centre said such States have high tribal populations too.
The forest land claims of these tribes and forest dwellers, who live from the forest, are mostly rejected by the States. Being poor and illiterate people who live in remote areas, they do not know the appropriate procedure for filing claims.
The gram sabhas, which initiate the verification of their claims, are low on awareness about how to deal with these claims. The rejection orders are not even communicated to the forest-dwelling STs and communities.
The Centre said the 2014 letter did not produce any change in the ground and was followed by a series of letters in 2015 highlighting issues like “high rate of rejection of claims, non-communication of rejection order, unrealistic timelines in deciding claims, irregular holding of State-level Monitoring Committee meetings, lack of support from the district administration concerned in providing revenue or forest maps, rejection of claims despite incomplete or insufficient evidence, etc.”
“It was requested that technology such as satellite imagery may be used for consideration of claims,” the Centre had suggested to the States in one of the letters.
But no efforts seem to have been taken by the State governments to remedy the situation to effectively implement the 2006 Act, the Centre indicated.
“It is uncertain whether the data furnished by the State governments accurately indicates whether the rejection orders were passed after observance of due process of law; compliance with principles of natural justice and whether appeal mechanisms have been properly exhausted. Without such information and compliance with the mandate of law in letter and spirit, the eviction of such tribal, would amount to serious miscarriage of justice,” the Centre argued.
The Centre urged the court to modify its order and direct the State governments to file detailed affidavits regarding the procedure followed and details of the rejection of claims.
“Till then, the eviction of the tribals may be withheld... the eviction of tribals, without such information, would cause serious prejudice to them who have been residing in forests for generations,” the Centre submitted.
The Centre argued that there is no specific provision in the 2006 Act for eviction after a claim is rejected.
The 2006 Act is a beneficial legislation which should be liberally construed in favour of the poor.