Has the government decided to sacrifice Forest Rights Act to benefit corporates?

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: February 14, 2019

Opposition leaders, tribal activists and people’s organisations said that in pending cases in the Supreme Court seeking to have this crucial Act struck down, the Central government’s lawyer said nothing in the defence of the law for all of the past three hearings.


Forest Rights Act
 
Leaders of the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), former member of the Adivasi Congress, along with two organizations working for adivasi and forest dwellers’ rights, Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch, All India Forum of Forest Movements and Campaign for Survival and Dignity, wrote a strong letter to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, wondering if the Centre has decided to “sacrifice” the Forest Rights Act, 2006 to appease big corporates or other vested interests.
 
The letter, written around February 4, said that in pending cases in the Supreme Court seeking to have this crucial Act struck down, the Central government’s lawyer said nothing in the defence of the law for all of the past three hearings.
 
They addressed the letter to Minister of Tribal Affairs Jual Oram and wrote that in the last three hearings in the Supreme Court on petitions seeking to have The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, struck down, the Centre’s counsel did not say anything in defence of the law.
 
The joint letter was written with regards to the Modi governments utter negligence in protecting the Forest Rights Act.
 
“Far from sending a senior law officer to defend this critical law, in the last three hearings – in March, May and December 2018 – the Central government has said nothing. Your Ministry has been represented by a standing counsel with no stature. The petitioners have been asking the court to evict people whose claims have been rejected when your own Ministry has admitted that many rejections are incorrect and require review. But in the recent hearings, your lawyer has not even bothered to remind the Court of this. This is putting lakhs of poor tribal and forest-dwelling families at risk of being evicted just because of the bias and illegal actions of officials,” the signatories wrote.
 
“When these cases were first filed, the then UPA government had appointed Sr. Adv. Fali Nariman, one of the country’s senior most lawyers, to defend the Act. Up to early 2017, your government was at least represented by a senior ASG – Sr. Adv. PS Narasimha. But now your Ministry is silent. Has it been decided that this Act should be sacrificed, perhaps to appease big corporates or other vested interests?” they asked.
 
“The Court had earlier directed that the matter should be listed in the last week of January 2019 and it may come up any day now. Whenever the case is heard, the court is set to decide whether people should be evicted. We call upon your Ministry to put up a strong defence of this crucial law and to ensure that these misguided cases are dismissed without delay. Dilution of this crucial legislation or eviction orders would be an atrocity on this country’s poorest people,” they added.
 
This letter was endorsed prior to the resignation of V Kishore Chandra Deo from his post as Chair of the Adivasi Congress. He resigned from the post and the party on Sunday, and is likely to join the Telugu Desam Party, reports said.
 
The Supreme Court, on February 13, asked state governments to report on steps taken by them in cases of claims being rejected under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) and to complete reviews of such rejections within four months. Meanwhile, the Union government again failed to defend the Act in court.
 
Full text of the letter:
 
JOINT LETTER ON MODI GOVERNMENT’S UTTER NEGLIGENCE IN PROTECTING THE FOREST RIGHTS ACT
 
To:
Shri Jual Oram
Minister of Tribal Affairs

Sub: Dismayed at the cavalier attitude of the Central Government to court cases against the critical Forest Rights Act; danger of the Act being diluted or struck down
 
Dear Shri Oram-ji,
 
We are writing to you because we are dismayed at the utterly indifferent and callous attitude adopted by the Central government around the rights of millions of India’s tribals and forest dwellers.
 
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court by retired forest officers and others with a vested interest in violating the rights of forest peoples (these cases are numbered WP 50/2008, WP 109/2008 etc.)
 
But far from sending a senior law officer to defend this critical law, in the last three hearings – in March, May and December 2018 – the Central government has said nothing. Your Ministry has been represented by a standing counsel with no stature. The petitioners have been asking the court to evict people whose claims have been rejected when your own Ministry has admitted that many rejections are incorrect and require review. But in the recent hearings, your lawyer has not even bothered to remind the Court of this. This is putting lakhs of poor tribal and forest-dwelling families at risk of being evicted just because of the bias and illegal actions of officials.
 
When these cases were first filed, the then UPA government had appointed Sr. Adv. Fali Nariman, one of the country’s seniormost lawyers, to defend the Act. Up to early 2017, your government was at least represented by a senior ASG – Sr. Adv. PS Narasimha. But now your Ministry is silent. Has it been decided that this Act should be sacrificed, perhaps to appease big corporates or other vested interests?
 
The Court had earlier directed that the matter should be listed in the last week of January 2019 and it may come up any day now. Whenever the case is heard, the court is set to decide whether people should be evicted. We call upon your Ministry to put up a strong defence of this crucial law and to ensure that these misguided cases are dismissed without delay. Dilution of this crucial legislation or eviction orders would be an atrocity on this country’s poorest people.
 
Sincerely,
 
Shri V Kishore Chandra Deo, (then) chairperson, Adivasi Congress
Com. Brinda Karat, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch
Com. D. Raja, Communist Party of India
Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Soumitra Ghosh, All India Forum of Forest Movements
CC: Office of the Prime Minister, Government of India; Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs