Call to CMs against Evictions of Forest Dwellers

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: July 17, 2019

After the February 13 order, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had asked all party-ruled states to file review petitions in the Supreme Court against its order to evict tribals and forestland dwellers whose claims had been rejected. Two days later, BJP president Amit Shah had issued a similar directive to all party-ruled states.


Forest rights
Image courtesy: The Hindu

This letter, written last week under the aegis of the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan, was released to the media yesterday.

Forest dweller and tribal activists as all national farmer organisations have in a strongly worded collective action, written to all chief ministers, urging them to file affidavits in the Supreme Court seeking recall of its now stayed February 13 order directing the eviction of 10 lakh forest dwellers alleged to have “illegally” encroached upon forest land.The letter, written last week under the aegis of the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan, was released to the media on Tuesday. The next hearing in the case is expected soon. The next hearing in the case is expected in the coming days.

On February 28, at its last hearing in the case on the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, the Supreme Court had stayed its February 13 eviction order.The court had also pulled up the Centre for waking up from its “slumber” and claiming that due process was not followed by states while passing the rejection orders against the dwellers.

The BAA, in its letter, has explained the reason behind writing to all the chief ministers, saying that “erroneous interpretation” of the Forest Rights Act — that rejection of claims must result in evictions — continued to “hold the field” despite the court’s February 28 order.

“We believe that there is an impression that after the Supreme Court order dated 28.2.2019 staying its earlier order putting the orders for eviction ‘on hold’, there is no further need for the order dated 13.2.2019 to be recalled or modified,” it said. “However, despite the fact that the directions for eviction have been put ‘on hold’ by the court, the erroneous interpretation of the FRA advanced by the writ petitions that rejection of claims must, by definition, result in evictions continues to hold the field.”

After the February 13 order, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had asked all party-ruled states to file review petitions in the Supreme Court against its order to evict tribals and forestland dwellers whose claims had been rejected. Two days later, BJP president Amit Shah had issued a similar directive to all party-ruled states.

Apart from stressing the need to ensure that the February 28 order holds, the Andolan has flagged the fact that the implementation of the forest law has been uneven. In many parts of the country, it said, vast sections of eligible forest dwellers have not filed claims at all, many because they did not have the documents required.

In a related decision, the collective of organisations has called a protest on July 22 to mobilise support for the tribal people. The effort to keep the pressure up to ensure that the 2006 forest law is implemented in letter and spirit comes at a time the Narendra Modi government is planning to amend the Indian Forest Act, 1927, to allow the forest bureaucracy to carry out arrests without warrants and use arms to enforce the law.

That is something even the British had not done to establish ownership over forests before Independence.

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