Breaking: SC admits all Intervention Applications defending FRA, 2006

HRDs Sokalo Gond and Nivada Rana’s IA backed by CJP and AIUFWP also admitted, interveners to file written submissions

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In a major breakthrough for Adivasi organisations and advocates of rights of forest dwelling communities, the Supreme Court of India has admitted all the 19 intervention applications that had been filed before it urging it to stop the eviction of millions of forest dwellers. Filed by different sets of directly concerned individuals and organisations, all of these defended the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. This included an intervention application filed by the Adivasi women and forest movement leaders Sokalo Gond and Nivada Rana backed by the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), two organisations that have been actively campaigning for forest rights. What makes Gond’s and Rana’s intervention application special is that it explains how the law is in statutory line with Schedules V, VI and IX of the Constitution. Wild Life First v/s Union of India –a batch of petitions filed in 2008 challenging the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act of 2006 came up for hearing before the court at 3.30 pm on September 12. The next date of hearing is November 26.

The arguments in the SC focused around constitutional validity of the FRA and interveners will continue to uphold this argument. The SC has asked the interveners to file written submissions. Senior Counsel Sanjay Parikh argued on behalf of Sanjay Lele, Nandini Sundar and ors. SC lawyer Adv. Aparna Bhat argued on behalf of Gond, Rana, AIUFWP and CJP.

After not defending the FRA in February 13 hearing, the government stood with the tribals this time. Justice Arun Misra observed that while forest land is given for constructing hotels, when the destruction of forests is talked about, it’s only the Adivasis who bear the brunt. Notices have been sent to the Union of India to respond on the IA regarding financial help to FSI through CAMPA funds. The review process will meanwhile continue.

This comes as a major victory for CJP which has been advocating for the rights of forest dwellers and defending the defenders since many years now.

The first SC order of February 2019, caused palpable tension among the forest dwelling communities and had sent shock-waves across the country’s forests, home to eight per cent of the population. It met with stiff resistance. It was called “unconstitutional”, especially by those which had been struggling for forest rights for decades.

Twenty five states with significant Adivasi population had sought more time from the SC to “review their earlier rejections of more than 17 lakh claims” through which the communities had demanded their rights over the forest lands that they have inhabited since generations. These states filed separate affidavits in the SC citing “procedural lapses” in their own decisions rejecting the claims for pattas. This was a cumulation of decisions taken over the last 13 years, the time since the FRA was supposed to be implemented.

By the next date of hearing on July 24, more than 19 intervention applications had been filed before the SC and a lot of national and international bodies had urged the Government of India to defend the FRA and stop the eviction of forest dwellers from their lands. The FRA 2006 has been a historic legislation that brings a jurisprudential shift in recognising the livelihood rights of traditional forest Dwellers, Adivasis and Dalits. Among the 19 intervention applications is one filed by retired bureaucrats and academics, Sharad Lele and Nandini Sundar, among others. Another one is one filed by two Adivasi women leaders, Sokala Gond, Nevada Rana backed by AIUFWP and CJP.

On August 6, 2019 the Supreme Court of India directed states that had not filed compliance affidavits on the matter of implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, to do so within a fortnight. The court was responding to the petition filed by Wildlife First v/s Union of India  in 2008 challenging the constitutional validity of the FRA. It was in February 2019, while hearing the petition, that the SC had, suddenly directed state governments to evict “encroachers” or the “illegal forest dwellers”. At the hearing that sent shock waves nationally and internationally, also leading to protests, the central government was absent. So was the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), that has aggressively intervened in the case. A week later, the order was temporarily stayed after the Central government was compelled to move the same bench for review due to widespread protests against the court-ordered evictions!

Among its four pillars of action, the land and livelihood rights of Adivasis and traditional forest dwellers, is one. CJP, with its expertise in navigating cases of human rights violations in the courts and beyond has been active on the issue; partnering with the All India Union of Forest Working Peoples (AIUFWP) since 2017 to battle any setback to these rights in the courts. This includes legally fighting back against malicious prosecution of leaders of the community and defending the Forest Rights Act, 2006 in the Supreme Court. We stand with the millions of Forest Dwellers and Adivasis whose lives and livelihoods are threatened.



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