SC orders eviction of a million forest dwellers nation-wide by 24 July
21 February 2019
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.
In its order of 13 February, the apex court rejected all claims of people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) across the country under the Forest Rights Act of 2006 and directed their eviction.
The law provides for giving land rights to those living on forest land for at least three generations before 31 December 2005. However, a bulk of these forest dwellers were found to be of recent origin and hence not eligible to be considered as forest dwellers.
A three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee ordered state chief secretaries to evict those whose claim as forest dwellers have finally been rejected under the law. It also directed that the eviction should be carried out on or before 24 July 2019, that is, the next date of hearing.
The bench cautioned the states against any failure to carry out evictions within the stipulated time, saying, “the matter would be viewed seriously.” It also ordered chief secretaries to also file affidavits by 12 July explaining the reasons for allowing rejected claimants to stay put.
The court also ordered the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to make a satellite survey and place on record the "encroachment positions". It directed the FSI to also place on record the position "after the eviction as far as possible".
Section 6 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 shows a multi-layered and hierarchical procedure for recognition or rejection of forest-dweller claims starting at the gram sabha level with multiple appellate committees at the State level.
He bench observed that in Andhra Pradesh not a single order of eviction has been made though 66,351 claims across 1,14,400 acres of forest land have been rejected. "Once orders of eviction have been passed, the eviction ought to have taken place," the Supreme Court said.
Likewise in Assam, 22,398 claims of STs and 5,136 claims of OTFDs across 10,128 hectares and 561.4 hectares, respectively, were rejected.
In Tamil Nadu, 7,148 claims of STs and 1,881 claims of OTFDs were rejected. In Karnataka, the number of rejected claims of OTFDs far surpass that of STs at 1.42 lakh to 35,521.
Over 82,000 claims of STs were rejected in Telangana alone.
In Kerala, out of 39,999 claims, 894 were rejected.
West Bengal reported rejection of 50,288 claims of Scheduled Tribes and 35,856 claims of OTFDs.
Other states under the SC lens include Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Gujarat.