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

Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Hindutva groups threat to peace, freedom: US diaspora groups tell FBI, other govt depts

By Our Representative  The Islamophobic and neo-Nazi ideology of Hindutva is a clear and present danger to peace and freedoms in the United States, a coalition of civil rights organizations told key officials of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a recent event in Edison, New Jersey. At the event titled United Against Hate, activists from American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) made detailed presentations on this ideology of Hindu supremacism that is committing mass persecution of India’s Muslims and Christians and is rearing its ugly head in New Jersey as well as across the US. Attending the event were David S Leonardis, Special Investigator from the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety; Michael E Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Division for the US Attorney General's Office; and Jonathan R Norbut of the U.S. Dep

Facing tough times, Rajasthan's Raika herders hold first-ever camel cheese festival

By Rosamma Thomas*  During the pandemic, the annual Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan did not occur for fear of contagion; in 2022, it was called off again as lumpy skin disease affected cattle. At Sadri in Pali district, however, festivity continues – a two-day Camel Cheese Festival was held on November 23 and 24, 2022. Visitors spent time with the camel herds and their Raika, drank camel-milk tea with the herders and then returned to lunch at the Kumbhalgarh Camel Dairy, from where the Kumbhalgarh Fort is visible, to taste camel cheese. The Raika herders have been facing a tough time – camels are no longer used as much for transport or agriculture in Rajasthan. The animals have limited utility, but their milk is prized. Camel Charisma, the dairy at Kumbhalgarh, sends camel milk across the country to people who use it in therapy – for autistic children, improved blood sugar levels, or even to treat cancer. It is believed that the health benefits of the camel milk is because the animals

As polls approach, electorate 'failing to realise': Gujarat model is in a shambles

By DN Rath*  Gujarat assembly elections, scheduled to be held on 1 and 5 December 2022, is viewed by many as dress rehearsal for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. When the suffering people have been pointing towards redressal of some local issues like absence of cleanliness, sewage problem, shortage of water supply, troubles created by stray cattle, insufficiency of streetlights, etc., it is evident that they are not fully aware that assembly elections are being fought on ideological standpoints and policy decisions. Nor is there the realisation that the state is in a shambles and the much-trumpeted ‘Gujarat model’ of development has proved to be a hoax. Like other states, the people of Gujarat are also back-broken by steep rise in prices to the tune of 400% in last 20 years. It is not that the government cannot control the spurt in prices if it so wants. Apart from the fact that price rise is an inevitability in a capitalist economy, artificial shortage triggered by massive hoarding, b

Shedding Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan? New Modi-Shah love for Tamil Nadu 'ignores' Periyar

By Sandeep Pandey*   The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have long argued for ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan’, which into recent years has translated into a crisper English expression: ‘One Nation-One Religion-One Language’. Given this backdrop, it is curious that the BJP government has organised the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency. Why did the BJP and RSS feel the need for such an event? All Narendra Modi events are highly publicised and have multiple political objectives. It is never an innocuous religious/cultural event as it may appear from the face of it. Afterall, RSS calls itself a cultural organisation, but has never ceased to surprise us with its political designs. Tamil Nadu has a long history of opposing imposition of Hindi by Union governments. Periyar EV Ramasamy had opposed the idea of compulsory teaching in Hindi as far back as in 1937. The 1960s witnessed violent protests against Hindi in which a number

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

BJP poll gimmick? Bilkis Bano rape case 'pardon' vs Rajiv assassins' release

By Sandeep Pandey*  Supreme Court has released six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was bound to happen as earlier AG Perarivalan was released in the same case, setting a precedent. Even though four of them are Sri Lankans but a popular Tamil sentiment favoured the release of these convicts which is why Tamil political parties supported this and resolutions were passed by different governments in Tamil Nadu to his effect.  Rajiv Gandhi paid the price of sending Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka where it got entangled with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eventually the whole operation ended up is a fiasco.  However, most importantly Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi and probably Rahul too do not have any objections to the release of these convicts. In fact, Sonia Gandhi played an important role in getting the death sentence of the only lady among the convicts Nalini commuted to life term through the Tamil Nadu Governor. Priyanka visited Nalini in Vellore Jail and

GM mustard not swadeshi, it's a patent of MNC Bayer, GoI 'misleading' SC: Modi told

Counterview Desk  In a representation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as many as 42 farmers’ organisations though their representatives , backed by senior scientists and experts, have said that the Government of India (GoI) should stop misleading the Supreme Court “with untrue and incorrect” statements on GM mustard. Insisting that India does not need unsafe GM mustard, in their representation, they urged the Supreme Court to order immediate uprooting of GM mustard crop in various locations. The representation comes even as a penal of experts, coming down heavily on the GoI for refusing to see how in less than a week’s time the pollen from GM mustard will “start contaminating” non-GM mustard fields with transgenes, including male sterility and herbicide tolerant traits. Alleging that the GoI is actively misleading the Supreme Court with untrue and incorrect statements on GM mustard, Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India said, “We can list at least five areas where Gov

Never-ending saga of sin tax: What if murder is taxed at Rs 1 crore, rape at Rs 5 crore?

By Moses Raj GS, Sangeetha Thomas*  What should have ended by June 30, 2022 as a 5 year experiment has resurfaced. The government has extended the levy of GST compensation cess by another 4 years till March 31, 2026. This cess, dubbed as the sin tax imposed on sin(ful) goods, is double the highest slab on indirect taxes. But only a few pay for it and the majority benefit, unendingly. The year 2017 is a landmark year for indirect taxes. With the grand idea of ‘One Nation, One Tax’ as a fiscal slogan subsuming all State based taxes such as octroi /entry tax, Value Added Tax (VAT), sales tax, taxes on lottery, betting and gambling, luxury tax, purchase tax, entertainment tax, property tax, professional tax and central sales tax into a single framework of Goods and Services Tax (GST) changed the contours of revenue collection. Complicating it further, India, with each State having its own size and revenue problems, has the most complex and highly centralised indirect tax structure in the w

Muslims, Dalits off Bangladesh border 'don't have acess to' water, power, farmland

Counterview Desk  Kirity Roy, secretary, civil rights group Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), in a letter to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, has revealed how, even after 75 years of Independence, Muslims and Dalits living next to the India-Bangladesh border do not have access to electricity, drinking water, even to their own land. Stating that the “horrible situation” has due to “illegal restriction on the agricultural activities” imposed by the Border Security Force (BSF), plunging “farmers and their families into deeper poverty”, the letter, referring to the plight of 1,200 people reside in the Changmari village, states, There are about 200 acres of cultivable lands out of 3,500 acres is situated beyond the border fence. “The ingress and egress of the farmers to their own agricultural land through the fencing gates are regulated by the BSF. The soil and climate of this region is very suitable for jute and maize cultivation”, it adds. Text: This letter is