Eviction of Forest Dwellers
Wildlife First v Ministry of Forest and Environment
The Supreme Court is assessing the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act 2006.
Petitioner: Wildlife First; Wildlife Trust of India; Nature Conservation Society; Tiger Research and Conservation Trust
Lawyers: Ajit Kumar Sinha; Shyam Divan
Respondent: Ministry of Forest and Environment; Ministry of Tribal Affairs;
Lawyers: ASG Tushar Mehta
Case Number: WP (C) 109/2008
Next Hearing: August 30, 2022
Last Updated: August 30, 2022
Is the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 constitutional?
Is the process for filing claims under the Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006 valid?
Have States followed due process in rejecting the claims of forest dwellers?
In 2008, Wildlife First, the Wildlife Trust of India and other conservationists moved the Supreme Court to assess the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act (Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006). They argue that the Act has led to deforestation and encroachment upon forest land.
Individuals seeking to be granted rights under the Act must be able to demonstrate that they have been and continue to either (i) reside on forests or forestland, or, (ii) dependent on forest produce for their livelihood. The Act recognises two classes of persons who are eligible to claim rights under it:
- Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes
- Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) – communities who have been dependent on forests for a minimum of 75 years.
One of the petitioners’ main prayers was to seek the recovery of forest land encroached upon by individuals who had their claims to land under the Forest Rights Act rejected.
In 2014, the petitioners filed an interlocutory application, requesting the Court to order States to evict illegal forest dwellers.
On February 13th 2019, the Supreme Court ordered States to evict all individuals who had their claims rejected under the Act by July 24th 2019. Further, it directed the Forest Survey of India to conduct a satellite survey and place on record encroachment positions before and after evictions. Finally, it directed the Chief Secretaries of various States to submit affidavits explaining why they had up until now failed to evict individuals, who had had their claims rejected.
On February 28th, the Court placed a stay on its own order, directing States to submit whether due process had been followed in rejecting claims.
Note that the Supreme Court directed its order towards the following States: Andhra Pradesh (~ 66,500 claims rejected), Assam (~ 27,500 claims rejected), Bihar (~ 4500 claims rejected), Chhattisgarh (~ 20,000 claims rejected), Goa (Yet to adjudicate on ~ 10,000 claims), Gujarat (Yet to adjudicate on ~ 1,82,000 claims), Himachal Pradesh (Yet to adjudicate on ~ 2500 claims), Jharkhand (~ 28,000 claims rejected), Karnataka (~ 1,75,000 claims rejected), Kerala: (~ 1000 claims rejected), Madhya Pradesh (~ 3,50,000 claims rejected), Maharashtra (~ 22,000 claims rejected), Odisha (~ 1,49,000 claims rejected), Rajasthan (~ 37,000 claims rejected), Tamil Nadu (~ 9000 claims rejected), Telangana (~ 82,000 claims rejected), Tripura (~ 68,000 claims rejected), Uttarakhand (< 100 claims rejected), Uttar Pradesh (~ 58,500 claims rejected), West Bengal (~ 86,000 claims rejected) and Manipur (data not available).