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Amidst eviction threat, draft amendment to forest Act to 'undermine' dwellers: UN

By Our Representative
UN human rights experts have urged the Government of India to prevent the "potential eviction" of up to nine million people, most of whom are "forest dwellers and members of scheduled tribes with an ancestral link to the land and forest." According to them, the threat of evictions follows a February 13 order of the Supreme Court.
“The basic premise of this decision, which treats tribal peoples as possibly illegal residents of the forest, is wrong ‑- indigenous peoples are the owners of their lands and forests,” said Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
Asserting that while on February 28, 2019, amid "growing tensions" over what was seen as a flawed claim process, the court stayed its eviction order, the Special Rapporteur noted, the threat is still not over, as it directed the states to clarify by 12 July the procedure to decide on the validity and merits of claims.
In a joint statement with Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing Leilani Farha who joined Tauli-Corpuz to issue a statement, they added, “For generations, India’s tribal peoples have lived in harmony with the country’s wildlife, protecting and managing vital natural resources."
"It is because of their sustainable stewardship that India still has forests worth conserving. To truly protect wildlife, recognising the rights of forest guardians would be a far more effective strategy than rendering them homeless,” they said, adding, “We urge the Government of India to uphold the spirit of the Forest Right Act by safeguarding the inherent rights of scheduled tribes and other traditional forest-dwelling peoples.”
They continued, "The Ministry of Environment has recently proposed a series of amendments to the 1927 Indian Forest Act, which, if adopted, would result in further violation of rights of tribals and forest-dwellers. The draft law would significantly increase the policing and discretionary powers of forest officers against local communities.”

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