In what can be seen as breather for forest dwelling communities, as many as 25 states with significant Adivasi population have sought more time from the Supreme Court 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, as per the provisions of Scheduled Tribes and Other traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
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Per Telegraph, a national daily, these states have 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.
In February, while hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by wildlife groups, and in the absence of an appropriate counter from the government, the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of forest dwellers whose claims to forest land had been rejected. This created a massive turbulence within the communities, and in the face of stiff resistance, marches and protests, the SC had to stay its order.
Before the scheduled hearing i.e. July 24, as many as 15 intervention applications were 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.
Faced with this situation, the states seem to have come under pressure to plead that the rejections were riddled with lapses and needed a review.
The states have applied for more time to complete their reviews. Per Telegraph, the officials in the Union tribal affairs ministry said that the states had told the apex court that most of the decisions to reject the claims had been taken without supporting reports from the village committees. The states seem to have admitted that in several instances, the rejections were not conveyed to the claimants.
With a hearing approaching this week, the states earlier this month applied for more time to complete the reviews.
The FRA, for the first time, recognising the “historical injustice” meted out to forest dwelling communities made provisions for the forest dwelling communities to be able to claim forest lands on which they’ve been residing for generations. In this regard, both individual and community forest rights were recognised and the Gram Sabha was made the most important body which would review the claims and forward it to District Level Committees. However, as per many reports from the ground, the claims filed by the communities are rejected in a non-transparent manner and most of the times, the claimants aren’t informed about such a rejection.
This has led to immense brutality being perpetrated on the communities by the forest bureaucracy in connivance with the police machinery and local mafias.
According to information compiled by the tribal affairs ministry, 42.3 lakh claims for pattas have been filed since 2006. While 19.6 lakh titles have been distributed, 17.5 lakh claims have been rejected and 5.2 lakh are pending at various stages of recognition or verification, reported The Telegraph.
July 22 protests saw the participation of as many as 30,000 or more forest dwellers demanding the correct implementation of the FRA. These protests highlighted the various challenges communities have faced in claiming their ownership of land.