The February 13 order of the Supreme Court to several States to evict lakhs of claimants finally rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, is an outcome of the consistent stand taken by the top court in the case since 2016 that encroachers should be evicted from forest land after due process.
On January 29, 2016, a three-judge Bench of Justices J. Chelameswar (now retired), A.M. Sapre and Amitava Roy (retired) held that “if the claim is found to be not tenable by the competent authority, the result would be that the claimant is not entitled for the grant of any patta or any other right under the Act, but such a claimant is also either required to be evicted from that parcel of land or some other action is to be taken in accordance with law.”
Two years later, on March 7 last year, an apex court Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph (both retired) and Deepak Gupta again sought information from the States concerned about the “action taken against those claimants whose claims have been rejected” and “the status of eviction of those claimants whose claims have been rejected and the total area from which they have been evicted”, among other directions. The February 13 order was a follow-up of these two orders. All three orders are based on a writ petition jointly filed by NGOs Wildlife First, Nature Conservation Society and Tiger Research and Conservation Trust, represented by senior advocate Shyam Divan and advocate P.K. Manohar, in 2008.
The three orders — 2016, 2018 and 2019 — passed by the Supreme Court do not question the three-tier verification process which forest rights claims undergo under the 2006 Act. The process of verification of the claims of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) is initiated by none other than the gram sabha. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules of 2007 mandate that the gram sabha should have adequate representation from the Scheduled Tribes, particularly vulnerable tribal groups and pre-agricultural communities.
An appeal would lie with the sub-divisional level committee against the gram sabha’s decisio. A second appeal can be filed with the district level committee. It is these “finally rejected” claims that the SC is bothered about. It has not interfered with genuine titles.
Reports criticised the Centre for remaining a mute spectator on February 13. In fact, the 2016 order records the stand taken by the Centre in the case.