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Supreme Court’s verdict on Forests Rights Act, 2006

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    28th Feb, 2019
  • Forest Dwellers claims of 10 lakh families under the Forests Rights Act (FRA) were rejected by the forest department. These families belong to Schedule Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers.
  • On the above lines, Supreme Court has directed governments of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telengana, Tripura, Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to ensure eviction.

Issue

Context

  • Forest Dwellers claims of 10 lakh families under the Forests Rights Act (FRA) were rejected by the forest department. These families belong to Schedule Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers.
  • On the above lines, Supreme Court has directed governments of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telengana, Tripura, Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to ensure eviction.

About

  • The FRA concerns the rights of forest-dwelling communities to land and other resources, denied to them over decades as a result of the continuance of colonial forest laws in India.
  • Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) is the nodal ministry for the implementation of FRA.
  • If a claim is rejected, the claimant has to be informed about the reasons for the rejection. Then, the claimant has 90 days to appeal against it.

Background

  • Nearly 250 million people live in and around forests in India, of which the estimated indigenous Adivasi or tribal population stands at about 100 million.
  • India's forests are governed by two main laws:
    • The Indian Forest Act, 1927: Empowers the government to declare any area to be a reserved forest, protected forest or village forest.
    • The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972: Allows any area to be constituted as a "protected area"- a national park, wildlife sanctuary, tiger reserve or community conservation area.

Under these laws, the rights of people living in the area declared as a forest or protected area are to be "settled" by a "forest settlement officer." This basically requires that officer to enquire into the claims of people to land, minor forest produce, etc., and, in the case of claims found to be valid, to allow them to continue or to extinguish them by paying compensation.

  • Studies have shown that in many areas this process either did not take place at all or took place in a highly faulty manner.
  • Those whose rights are not recorded during the settlement process are susceptible to eviction at any time. This "legal twilight zone" leads to harassment, evictions, extortion of money and sexual molestation of forest dwellers by forest officials, who wield absolute authority over forest dwellers' livelihoods and daily lives.
  • The demand for the law has seen massive national demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people.
  • Supporters of the Act claim that it will redress the "historical injustice" committed against forest dwellers.
  • Opponents of the law claim it will lead to massive forest destruction and should be repealed.
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