On 13th February, The Supreme Court of India in its order directed various state governments to report on the status of people's claims on their forest land under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The order further stated that claimants whose rejections have "attained finality" should now be evicted before the next hearing on July 27th 2019. According to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, as of November 2018, the total number of rejected claims are of 18.92 lakh tribal and other forest-dwelling families.
This comes as a huge blow to the people whose rights are protected under the Forest Rights Act 2006. This Act for the first time acknowledged the historical injustices done to the forest dwellers and recognised their traditional rights over forest land and the right to manage and conserve the resources.
The apathy shown by the Centre and state governments in defending the rights of millions of Adivasi and forest dwellers puts the lives and livelihood of around 20 lakh families at stake. There is enough evidence to show that these are the communities who have been protecting, conserving forests and raising their voices against diversion of forest land for industrial purposes. Their eviction would also violate India’s international human rights obligations.
Reports by the state government and independent committees have shown that the process of recognising rights has been poorly implemented. In several states, systematic rejection of claims has happened without stating the reasons or giving a chance of appeal. Moreover, wrongful rejections are still under review and most significantly the FRA does not have a provision of automatic evictions.
We appeal to the nodal ministry (Ministry of Tribal Affairs) and state governments to present these as part of their response to Supreme Court’s directions and uphold the rights of the forest dwellers to life, dignity and livelihood.
We also appeal to all the citizens of India including forests rights’ activists, civil society groups to stand in solidarity and urge the Centre and state governments to uphold the principles of this landmark Act.