Skip to main content

Forest rights: Supreme Court Feb 28 stay temporary, BJP govts "supporting" corporates

Counterview Desk
On February 28, the Supreme Court stayed its two-weeks-old order directing 21 states to evict 11.8 lakh illegal forest dwellers whose claims over the forest land have been rejected by the authorities, but civil society organizations believe it is a temporary reprieve, as state governments have been asked to file affidavits giving details about process adopted in rejecting the claims.
Insisting that it is a temporary stay, as the apex court posted the matter for further hearing on July 10, the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) has demanded that the Government of India and state government should take “immediate” steps to stop to all evictions in forest areas and dilutions of the clauses of the Forest Rights Act by the governments, even as reviewing of all the rejected claims for forest rights under the FRA within three months.

NTUI note by its general secretary Gautam Mody:

On February 13, 2019, the Supreme Court of India (SC) in a case filed by some retired forest officials, along with four ‘wild life conservation’ organisations – the Wildlife Trust of India, the Nature Conservation Society, the Tiger Research and Conservation Trust and the Bombay Natural History Society – challenged the constitutional validity of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA), ordered 21 state governments to evict all claimants whose claims have been rejected.
This order could be used to evict and displace over 19 lakh households of forest people. The Wildlife Trust of India has been involved in buying land used for agriculture to establish an elephant corridor with the support of the Forest Department in Karnataka thereby displacing families from lands including non-forest lands to create passage for animals.
They have been involved in similar efforts in Kerala, Meghalaya and in Assam. The BJP government at the centre had absented itself from the proceedings and in so doing affirmed its support for the conservationist lobby and its opposition to the land rights of forest dwellers.
On February 28, the SC stayed this order and asked state governments to report on how claims were processed. 20.5 lakh claims have been rejected, according to state government affidavits. The numbers are disputed, not indicative of compliance with appellate procedures and have been criticized by numerous organisations including the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
The FRA recognizes the role of forest dwellers in “…conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological balance and thereby strengthening the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and food security of the forest dwelling” people while the present policy thrust is to pitch them against the cause of wildlife protection.
Parallel dilution of rights
The BJP government has consistently diluted the FRA through its tenure. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014 and the National Forest Policy, 2018 both tried to subvert the role of the Gram Sabha under the FRA while amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act and a host of amendments to the Rules to FRA all undermine FRA.
State governments have also resorted to undermining the FRA by invoking the Indian Forest Act 1927. States have also framed legislation and rules such as the Maharashtra Village Forest Rules, 2014 and Protected Forest Rules in Madhya Pradesh and the amendments to the Chotanagpur Tenancy Acts and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Acts in Jharkhand.
The Forest Department has used the claim recognition requirements and procedure required under the FRA to deny or delay claims while not allowing the process of appeals to proceed. To worsen the situation, forest department officials and police have continue to harass claimants; burn down forest villages, foist false cases on people living traditionally in the forests and resorting to violence against them.
Why are the claims rejected?
The rejection of the claims that has continued across the country is rooted in the issue of control over the natural resources: the FRA was a legislative attempt to ensure collective ownership of the forest dwellers over the forests and its minor produce while the Forest Department, created under colonial rule, was never willing to give up their control over the forests.
There is both financial interest in this and this is also seen as a necessity to establish control over the people in order natural resources at the disposal of capital. This conflict has existed despite the law and hence its implementation by the forest department has been dismal.
In making the forest department the implementing agency, there is an inherent conflict of interest. Even according to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, most state governments have attributed the high rate of rejection of forest rights claims largely to duplication of claims -- either by one forest dweller making multiple claims or persons from the same family making separate claims. This duplication obviously occurs due to the huge delays in processing these claims.
Over 45% of forest rights claims countrywide are rejected. The reasons for rejection are not cited and hence it also becomes impossible to appeal against it. The people living in the forests – mostly Adivasis – are the most vulnerable people of this country, expecting them to have the resources to pursue the appeal process where the forest department challenging the claim is on the body of appeal is extreme.
The February 28 stay order is only a temporary relief – the entire parallel policy effort of the BJP government both at the centre and in the states to dismantle the rights under the FRA continues undeterred. This dilution is necessary to ensure access of big corporations to the natural resources, especially mines in these forest areas.
The forest people residing in these areas across the country have waged a continuous struggle against commercial exploitation of the forests. It is they who protect the forests as recognized by the FRA and hence the attack on them and the law that protects them.
The NTUI stands with the forest working people in our collective struggle for rights to livelihood and in protecting our natural resources and our environment. We demand:
  • An immediate stop to all evictions in forest areas
  • An immediate stop to the dilution of the clauses of the Forest Rights Act by the central government and state governments
  • Review of all rejected claims for forest rights under the FRA within three months
  • A time-bound processing of claims under the FRA
  • Removal of the Forest Department from the Appellate body for review of claims: government to be represented only by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs along with representatives of the Gram Sabha.

Comments

TRENDING

Young environmentalist's arrest 'sinister', even parents not told of her whereabouts

By Our Representative  The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India (CEJI), a civil society network, has said that it is “highly disturbing” that Disha Ravi, a young woman climate activist from Bengaluru was “picked up” in what is referred to as a “closely guarded operation” of the Delhi police. Disha, 21, has been remanded to police custody for five days after she was taken from Bengaluru to Delhi.

Mukesh Ambani's earnings during Covid 'can lift' 40% informal workers out of poverty

By Dr Gian Singh*  The Inequality Virus Report released by Oxfam, a non-profit organization, on January 25, 2021 on the growing inequalities in different parts of the world, sheds light on the growing economic, educational, healthcare and gender inequalities in India. The report has revealed that the wealth of billionaires has increased by 35 per cent during the lockdown period in the country.

US forensic revelation enough evidence to release Sudha Bharadwaj, others: Civicus

Counterview Desk  Civicus, a Johannesburg-based global alliance of civil society organisations and activists claiming to have presence in 175 countries with 9,000 members and working for strengthening citizen action, has sought immediate release of Sudha Bharadwaj, arrested in 2018 under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”

Evolution of Sardar Patel's understanding of those 'involved' in Gandhi's assassination

By Shamsul Islam*  As the world mourns the 73rd anniversary of MK Gandhi's assassination by Hindutva terrorists on January 30, 1948, RSS, the most prominent flag-bearer of Hindutva politics, whose cadres rule India today, is found reacting angrily to the reality – that the criminals who assassinated Gandhiji were not only part of the ideological world-view of Hindu Mahasabha (led by VD Savarkar) and RSS brand of Hindu nationalism but were also connected with these. 

No Election Commission safeguard against electromagnetic hacking of EVM: Study

Counterview Desk  Releasing a new study simultaneously in Chennai and Kolkata in view of the forthcoming elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE) – a civil society initiative – has regretted “lack of integrity of EVM voting”, pointing out, the Election Commission of India (ECI) does not appear to safeguard against the possibilities of ‘side-channel attacks’, i.e, hacking electronic devices through electromagnetic and other methods.

20% of FIRs against journalists in 2020 alone, targeted attacks in 2021 'too many to count'

Counterview Desk  Condemning what it calls “alarming rise in state repression and clampdown on news outlets and journalists” that “expose” the anti-people nature of the establishment, India's top civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has demanded “immediate release of arrested journalists, withdrawal of arbitrary charges and protection of media persons facing threats.”

'Viability' of agricultural cooperatives vs govt proposed pro-corporate economic model

Dr Gian Singh* The farmer struggle started from Punjab against the promulgation of three agricultural ordinances by the Union government in June 2020 and the enactment of three bills by Parliament in September 2020 to replace these ordinances is unique in many respects. There is no other example of such a peaceful and democratic farmer struggle.

Whither right to food? Social security scheme allocation for woman, child 'reduced'

Counterview Desk Pointing out that women and children have been ignored in the Union Budget 2021-22, the advocacy group Right to Food Campaign (RtFC) has said that the Government of India should have taken into account the fact that even after the lockdown was lifted, distress among marginalized communities continues, with people having lower incomes and reduced food consumption.