India's top court orders eviction of more than 1 million forest dwellers

Clay Curtis
February 26, 2019

Chief Secretary of the state has to file a sworn affidavit with the Supreme Court before July 27 stating implementation of apex court's decision.

India's Supreme Court has ordered the eviction of up to 8 million tribal and other forest-dwelling people, in what campaigners have described as "an unprecedented disaster", and "the biggest mass eviction in the name of conservation, ever".

According to affidavits filed by the States in the Top Court, about 11,72,931 (1.17 million) land ownership claims made by Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act have been rejected on various grounds, including absence of proof that the land was in their possession for at least three generations.

The bench cautioned the states against any failure to carry out evictions within the stipulated time, saying, "the matter would be viewed seriously".

Some 1.8 million claims have been accepted and land titles handed over to families living on 72,000sq km of forest land, an area equivalent to the north-eastern state of Assam.

Other states under the SC lens include Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Gujarat.

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As things stand now, after eviction, anyone whose claims under the ROFR Act were rejected, are not eligible to receive any compensation from the government as their occupation of forest area was illegal.

The petitions challenging the validity of the FRA were filed by Wildlife First (NGO) and retired forest officials who claimed that the law is resulting in "deforestation" and "encroachment" on forest lands.

A report by The News Minute said, "The Centre not jumping on board to defend the Act has made the preponderance of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers more vulnerable and denied them their rights, thus defeating the very objective of this legislation".

"The law is meant for pre-existing forest rights only and thus is not a land grant or land distribution law", says Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife Trust, one of the petitioners in the case. He further said that it indicates the intention to drive out lakhs of tribal and poor farmers from the forests.

The CPM on Thursday also demanded that the Centre issue an ordinance to protect all tribals and traditional forest dwellers after the Supreme Court order. "The rejections are often arbitrary against the recommendations of the gram sabha", the party said. "Lakhs of appeals are pending against the rejection", the statement said.

In the last 30 years, the government has diverted 5,400 square miles of forest land, the size of CT, for industrial projects - many of which were opposed by the indigenous people.

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