Skip to main content

International law "set aside": SC order on Forest Rights Act to "trigger" forced eviction

Counterview Desk
In a strong reaction, one of the top-most international NGOs, Amnesty International, has termed the recent Supreme Court ruling of Forest Rights Act (FRA) as “devastating”, warning, this could render over a million indigenous people homeless. A statement issued by Amnesty International’s India office in Bangalore says that India is party to a number of international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibit forced evictions.
Thus, it states, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights defines a forced evictions as “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”

Text of the statement:

Responding to a ruling by India’s Supreme Court ordering several state governments to evict indigenous people whose claims over their traditional lands have been rejected, Aakar Patel of Amnesty India said:
“This ruling is a body blow to Adivasi rights in India. It would be unconscionable for Adivasi people to be evicted from their homes and lands merely because their claims were rejected in a process that is known to be severely flawed.
“Many civil society organizations, including Amnesty India, have pointed out for years that the Forest Rights Act is poorly implemented. Adivasi people claiming legal recognition of their rights over their traditional lands often have to face corruption, overly bureaucratic procedures, and government apathy. State governments have themselves admitted that claims are often incorrectly rejected.
“Even where claims have been rightly rejected, the government must consider alternatives to evictions. The Forest Rights Act was enacted to correct the historical injustice faced by Adivasi communities in India. But this ruling, if implemented, could itself lead to catastrophic consequences.
“It is also outrageous that the central government did not adequately defend the Forest Rights Act at the hearings before the Supreme Court, and did not present its lawyers on February 13, when the order was passed. The government has abjectly failed in its duty to respect and protect Adivasi rights.
“Forced evictions are explicitly prohibited under international human rights law and standards. The government must ensure that they explore all feasible alternatives and conduct genuine consultations with people who could be affected. No one should be rendered homeless or vulnerable to other human rights violations because of an eviction.”
Background
The Supreme Court was hearing petitions filed by wildlife NGOs who contend that the Forest Rights Act has led to deforestation and encroachment of forests. The Court directed the state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana,Tripura, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to explain why they had not evicted people whose claims under the Forests Rights Act had been rejected. Over 1.12 million forest rights claims have been rejected in these states.
The Court also directed the governments of these states – and of Goa, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, which have not yet provided claim rejection numbers – to evict people whose claims had been rejected, on or before the next hearing of the case, scheduled on 24 July 2019. The order was passed on 13 February, but was published on the Court’s website only on 20 February.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of forest rights) Act, popularly called the Forest Rights Act, was enacted in 2006. It recognizes the customary rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other ‘traditional forest-dwellers’ to land and other resources. Members of these communities can claim individual rights over forest land they depend on or have made cultivable. Communities can also file for rights over common property resources, including community or village forests, religious and cultural sites, and water bodies.
India is party to a number of international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibit forced evictions.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights defines a forced evictions as “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”
Forced evictions constitute gross violations of a range of internationally recognised human rights, including the human rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of the person, security of the home, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom of movement.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has emphasized that evictions may be carried out only as a last resort once all feasible alternatives have been explored and only after appropriate procedural and legal safeguards are in place.
***

Govt of India indifference

A well-known forest rights organization, Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), in a statement on similar lines, believes that things wouldn’t have come to such a pass in case the Government had taken an active stand in the Supreme Court. Text of the statement:
The Supreme Court’s February 13 order (linked here) in a case challenging the Forest Rights Act, which was published yesterday evening, 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.
The Central government -- 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. In fact their petition is not in accordance with facts, law or conservation, and several of India’s top environmentalists and scientists have condemned their petition.
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 Forest Rights Act, and – for some States – goes on to state that claimants whose rejections have “attained finality” should now be evicted.
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.
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. 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. Is another historic injustice about to be committed against tribals and other forest dwellers?
We, and we believe all other organisations, parties and movements interested in justice, will:
  • seek to have this order reviewed or modified in accordance with law,
  • expose the Central government’s collusion with big companies and forest officials against forest dwellers; 
  • fight to ensure that all governments and parties defend the legal rights of tribals and forest dwellers, and 
  • fight against any effort to use this order to justify illegal evictions or other atrocities against forest dwellers. 

Comments

TRENDING

Rescind Gates Foundation award to Modi, demand three Nobel Peace laureates

Counterview Desk
In a major boost to those opposing the award to the Gates Foundation’s proposed to be awarded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, three Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Mairead Maguire (1976), Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman (2011) and Shirin Ebadi (2003), have in an open letter called upon Milinda and Bill Gates to withdraw their decision, stating Modi is allegedly involved in human rights violations.

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Bullet train impact report Japan agency property: Govt of India tells Gujarat NGO

The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) has told Gujarat-based environmental organization, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) that the detailed report of Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) representatives on their visit to Gujarat and Maharashtra assess the impact of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project on farmers is not its property, but that of JICA.

NHSRCL letter to PSS, signed by activists Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant and Swati Desai, comes following the latter’s request to it on June 10 for the report. PSS was one of the NGOs that represented JICA on the project, saying, if implemented, it would adversely impact farmers, even as pointing towards the fact that the project itself is unviable and Indian Railways needs to invest, instead, more on upgrading the present railway infrastructure.
Following the NHSRCL reply, PSS has shot a second letter to JICA, insisting that the latter should share a copy of the report, even as providing details of the …

Report on "torture" in Kashmir jails: 44% detainees stripped naked, 29% electrocuted

Counterview Desk
A recent report titled “Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir”, published by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), has claimed to build “on the body of human rights documentation on torture” in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) through an examination of 432 case studies. It seeks to focus on "the trends and patterns, targets, perpetrators, contexts and impact of torture" in the state.

Allow international human rights observers, media to access Kashmir: US lawmakers

Counterview Desk
In a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two members of the American Congress, Pramila Jayapal and James McGovern, raising "significant concerns" about what they call "humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jammu & Kashmir”, quoting "credible reports" from journalists and advocates on the ground" have said that "the Indian government has detained thousands of people with no recourse, imposed de facto curfews on residents' and cut off internet and telephone access in the region.”

Karma tribal festival an occasional to campaign for tribal rights: IPMSDL

By Our Representative
The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), in a solidarity statement has suggested that the current Karam festival of Central India -- which seeks to promote sisterhood, friendship, cultural unity, and closer link to nature -- should be the occasion to campaign against alleged efforts to violently drive away forest dwelling communities from their forest homes.
"Millions are threatened to lose lands and livelihood under the implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006", the statement States, adding, "As corporate interests continues to enter tribal territories and extract profit from its natural resources, indigenous people are pushed to further marginalization and discrimination."
Asserting that indigenous movement in India "remains steadfast in keeping their culture, deeply linked to their lands alive by carrying out their heritage and struggles", IPMSDL, even as extending "…

Amidst Modi celebrations, thousands protest 'massive' submergence in Narmada Valley

By Our Representative
Thousands of women and men gathered on at the Shaheed Stambh in Badwani, Madhya Pradesh, to raise their voice against what they called "the destruction of the Narmada Valley", protesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gujarat BJP rulers for celebrating the Sardar Sarovar dam being filled up to the full reservoir level (FRL) on September 17, which also happens to be Modi's birthday.
Calling it a black day for the people of the Valley, whose villages and farms got submerged because of highest-ever water level having been achieved in the dam, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which organised the parallel rally across the border with Gujarat, regretted in a statement that Modi's celebration at the dam took place amidst " martyrdom of the Valley".
The demonstration in Badwani was preceded by a vehicles rally, which took rounds of the city streets. They were joined by people from several villages of Dhar district. They gather…

Narmada valley: SC notice to Gujarat, MP, M'rashtra on submergence sans rehabilitation

By Our Representative
Thr Supreme Court has issued notice to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra governments following a Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)-backed petition seeking the explanation as to whether large areas of Narmada Valley have gone into submergence by filling up the Sardar Sarovar dam up to the full reservoir level (FRL) without rehabilitating the project affected families (PAFs).

Historic Chikhalda, temples, mosques submerged, activists 'rescue' Gandhi idol

By Medha Patkar
The first farmer of Asia was born in Chikhalda, if one is to believe archaeological researchers. A historic village, 50 percent of its population is of Hindus and 50 percent of Muslims, yet it has always remained peaceful. Chikhalda has struggled to save water, land and people along Narmada river.