Published: Tue, February 26, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

India top court orders eviction of over 1 million forest dwellers

India top court orders eviction of over 1 million forest dwellers

The Supreme Court today directed eviction of all ineligible forest dwellers, numbering over a million, across 21 states, on or before 24 July 2019, that is, before its next hearing in the case. The Bench, comprising Justice Arun Mishra, Justice Navin Sindha and Justice Indira Banerjee, asked the Chief Secretary to inform, through an affidavit, "as to why after the rejection of the claims, which have attained finality, eviction has not been made in spite of the order passed by this court".

While some non-government organisations on Thursday urged the top court to withdraw the order till a proper rehabilitation policy is drawn up, others welcomed the order saying the law had resulted in "fragmentation" of forest land.

He urged the court to withdraw the order and asked the tribal affairs ministry to "immediately" intervene in the matter to prevent harassment of the poor and deprived.

The people who are to be evicted are those people, whose claims were discarded by the Supreme Court after scrutiny.

Referring to the evictions, the SC bench said, "The Chief Secretary shall ensure that evictions will be carried out on or before the next date of hearing in places where the rejection orders have been passed".

"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.

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The matter is heard and talked in the political spheres too, Rahul Gandhi alleged that the BJP ruled government was standing as a "silent spectator" when the Act was challenged in the Court.

The new Act states that all the people dwelling in the forest lands before 31st December, 2005 and for the last 3 generations has to be recognised and provided with "land holdings". The state earned distinction in rejecting as many as 2,53,742 claims - which comes to around 59% - under different categories.

Tribal groups contend that their claims have been rejected systematically in some states and need to be reviewed. The claims are examined by a committee headed by the District Collector and having Forest Department officials as members. Chhattisgarh lost 901 square km of forest cover ever since its formation, mainly because of the encroachments and diversion of lands for mining in dense forests.

The Congress president said "in order to preempt large scale evictions" it would be "expedient to file a review petition" and "take any other action" as deemed fit by Mr Baghel.

The court on February 13, had directed the Central government to evict tribals, who didn't possess any rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, before July 27.

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