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The Central government has challenged the Supreme Court’s order that directed the eviction of tribals and forest dwellers whose claims under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 were rejected.
The Court had, on February 13, directed the eviction of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDSTs) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) from 21 states.
While seeking a modification of this order, the application filed through the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs defends the Forest Rights Act.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing on behalf of the Centre as well as the State of Gujarat, mentioned the case for early hearing before Justice Arun Mishra, whose Bench had passed the eviction order.
The application seeks a modification of the order, with the Centre submitting that a holistic view of the issue is being considered.
The case will be taken up for hearing tomorrow.
The Centre has defended the Act, saying that it was enacted with an intent to correct the historical process by which tribal and other forest-dwelling communities in the country were alienated from their right to habitation and right to occupy and hold forest land and forest produce. It was enacted under the constitutional mandate of Article 15(4), which specifically empowers the state to provide for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes, the application states.
“…the residing of forest dwellers in forest areas and sustaining through traditional practices is not antithetic to the environment and forest ecosystem, but rather integral to the same. The implementation of the Act in letter and spirit is therefore not only a legislative requirement, but a constitutional imperative.”
The Centre also notes the lack of implementation of the Act by state governments, particularly in states hit by left-wing extremism, which have high tribal populations.
It is noted that the Supreme Court in 2016 had directed the state governments to furnish data regarding the number of claims rejected and the action taken after the rejection of such claims. While some states furnished data on the number of rejections, the details for the same were not provided, the Centre contends.
“…it is uncertain whether the data furnished by the state governments accurately indicates whether the rejection orders were passed after the observance of due process of law; compliance with principles of natural justice and whether appeal mechanisms have been properly exhausted. Without such information and compliance with the mandate of law in letter and spirit, the eviction of such tribal, would amount to serious miscarriage of justice.”
It is also noted that under the Act, rejection of a claim does not ipso facto lead to the eviction of a tribal.
In this light, it has been prayed that the Court modifies its order dated February 13, and pass a direction urging states to file detailed affidavits regarding the procedure followed and details of the rejection of claims of FDSTs and OTFDs under the Act. It is also prayed that the eviction be withheld for the time being.
Read the February 13 order: