A Supreme Court bench headed by chief justice Ranjan Gogoi was informed by lawyer ML Sharma on April 16, 2019 that despite the apex court’s order staying the eviction of illegal forest dwellers, houses of tribals were being demolished at Kalmipara, in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh. To this, the bench, also comprising Justice Sanjiv Khanna, said that it would hear the plea on April 23, 2019. The plea said the top court has stayed its own order of February 13, 2019, by which it had directed 21 states to evict 11.8 lakh illegal forest dwellers, whose claims over the land have been rejected by the authorities.
It alleged that despite the order, industrialist Navin Jindal, Jindal Power Ltd, other companies and political persons, along with the state police, have started demolishing huts of the tribals in Raigarh and other districts.
“Demolition is still continued in the different areas of the forest/villages. If huts were demolished, residents will be compelled to be ousted from the land belonging to forest/villages, which has already been grabbed by the industrialist and company on paper, with the help of the then collector and state authorities, either via sale or acquisition proceeding based on false certificates of consent,” the plea said.
Due to the ongoing Lok Sabha polls, the demolition has been halted at the instance of political parties and it may begin again, after the elections in the state on April 23, 2019, it said. “Thereafter, demolition will be started again and huts/houses of the ‘adivasi’ villagers will be forcefully demolished, coupled with torture, so that they will be ousted from their land automatically,” the plea said.
Eviction of forest dwellers: SC rejects separate PIL, asks lawyer to intervene in existing case
The SC has refused to entertain a separate PIL of a lawyer on the issue of eviction of forest dwellers and asked him to file an application seeking to intervene as a party in a case that is already pending before the court
April 16, 2019: A lawyer, on April 15, 2019, filed a plea in the Supreme Court, seeking to intervene as a party in a pending case and sought a direction to the authorities not to evict any forest dweller in the country. A bench headed by justice Arun Mishra, however, refused to entertain a separate PIL of lawyer ML Sharma on the issue of eviction of illegal forest dwellers and instead, asked him to file an application seeking to intervene in a pending case.
The apex court had, on March 25, 2019, referred Sharma’s plea before justice Mishra’s bench, adding that in any case, the February 13 order, directing 21 states to evict 11.8 lakh illegal forest dwellers, has already been stayed by the court. Sharma, appearing for Chhattisgarh-based Tarika Tarangini Larka, had submitted that the issues raised in the PIL were of larger interest for forest dwellers and hence, the notice be issued.
The apex court had, on March 5, 2019, taken cognisance of another plea filed by Larka, seeking a direction to the centre not to allot possession of any forest land belonging to tribals, to anyone other than ‘adivasis’ residing in that particular area. The petition alleged that authorities in Tamnar of Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh district have ‘forcibly’ grabbed a large area of tribal land and handed it to outsiders and now are trying to oust ‘adivasis’ from the area. “For this, they adopted simple strategy, declaring forest dweller as non-adivasis, to grab their land in the forest and village by rejecting their claim upon land,” the plea said.
It sought restoration of land acquired by the government from tribals in Chhattisgarh for mining and other purposes and to provide them value of mined minerals. The petition has also sought setting up of a special investigation team (SIT) comprising retired judges of the apex court, to look into the alleged illegal acquisition of land belonging to tribals throughout the country. Besides, it sought a direction to the CBI to register a FIR under the provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Act, to investigate the matters brought to light by the SIT and to file their report before the apex court.
SC stays its earlier order that directed the eviction of 11.8 lakh forest dwellers
The Supreme Court has stayed its earlier order that directed the eviction of 11.8 lakh forest dwellers and asked the state governments to file affidavits, explaining the process adopted in rejecting the claims of the forest dwellers over the lands
March 1, 2019: The Supreme Court, on February 28, 2019, stayed its February 13 order, directing 21 states to evict 11.8 lakh illegal forest dwellers whose claims over the forest land have been rejected by the authorities. A bench comprising justices Arun Mishra, Naveen Sinha and MR Shah, directed the state governments to file affidavits giving details about process adopted in rejecting the claims. The apex court posted the matter for further hearing on July 10, 2019.
The court had agreed, on February 27, 2019, to hear the centre’s plea seeking withholding of its February 13 order asking 21 states to evict nearly 11.8 lakh forest dwellers whose claims were rejected. After briefly hearing the matter, the bench said: “We stay and keep on hold our February 13 order.” The bench also directed that the affidavits had to be filed by the chief secretaries of the states, giving details of various steps covered for carrying out the eviction of the forest dwellers.
Although the apex court gave relief to the centre, it was annoyed as to why it was in a ‘slumber’ for such a long time and approached it only after the directions were passed on February 13. The top court said many of the points being raised now were never raised when the matter was pending.
“You have been in a slumber all this while and now, after we passed this order, you are seeking a modification,” the bench said and reminded the centre that it was in 2016, when the state governments were directed to file details of the rejection of claims and the follow-up action. During the hearing the bench wondered “Are these people all tribals or normal people living there?”
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the NGO, Wildlife First, submitted that bona fide forest dwellers will not be affected and those ‘who have been granted pattas by the authorities will not be affected’.
The centre had rushed to the top court for modification of the order, saying the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was a ‘beneficial’ legislation and should be construed liberally to help ‘extremely poor and illiterate people’ who are not well informed of their rights and procedure under the law. While keeping in abeyance its order, the bench said chief secretaries would have to disclose the modalities of the procedure adopted to decide the claims on forest land. The judges were of the view that many of these claimants may not even possess the requisite documents and asked the state governments to furnish documents, to ascertain whether the rejections were made after following due process.
The apex court directed that the authorities would also examine whether the state-level monitoring committee, which ensure that no tribal is displaced except in compliance with the formalities under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, were involved in the process when the claims were rejected. The top court asserted that under no circumstances should the forest land or the customary right of the tribals be encroached by ‘mighty people’. The centre in its application said as the forest dwellers were extremely poor and illiterate, it was difficult for them to substantiate their claims before the competent authorities.
The apex court had on February 13, 2019, directed 21 states to apprise it about the action taken by them over the eviction of tribals and forest dwellers whose claim have been rejected. In the application, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs said, “It is respectfully prayed that this court may consider modifying its order and direct the state governments to file detailed affidavits regarding the procedure followed and details of the rejection of claims and till then, the eviction of tribals may be withheld. The eviction of tribals, without such information would cause serious prejudice to such tribals who have been residing in forests for generations,” the ministry said in its plea. In the larger interest of tribals, farmers and forest dwelling communities, the centre wishes to ‘take a holistic re-look’ at the subject matter, so that their ‘interests are fully protected’, it said.
The application said that the Act was made with an object to recognise the rights in ‘forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes’ (FDST) and ‘other traditional forest dwellers’ (OTFDs) who have been residing in forests for generations but whose rights have not been recorded. “The FDSTs and OTFDs are extremely poor and illiterate people and not well informed of their rights and procedure under the Act. They live in remote and inaccessible areas of the forest. It is difficult for them to substantiate their claims before the competent authorities,” the centre said. The top court is dealing with a batch of petitions on the issue, which were filed in the apex court over a period since 2006.