Arguments: 6 August 2019
Today, a three judge bench of the Supreme Court - comprising Justice Arun Mishra, Justice Bhushan R Gavai and Justice M R Shah - directed the 7 delaying state governments to file their replies within 15 days. Further, the court directed state governments to submit information on rejected claims to the Forest Survey of India by 31 August.
The Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to the constitutional validity of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. One major issue in the case pertains to recovering forest lands encroached upon by individuals whose claims to land title have been rejected under the Act. In 2014, the petitioners requested the Court to order the eviction of such ‘illegal’ forest dwellers. On 13 February 2019, the court ordered eviction. Two weeks later, it stayed its eviction order and directed state governments to submit information on whether due process was applied in rejecting claims.
In today’s hearing, the court noted that nine states had not followed due process in rejecting claims to land titles under the Forest Rights Act.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, on behalf of the Union of India, submitted that 7 state governments had not yet filed affidavits detailing the procedures followed in rejecting claims of tribal forest dwellers.
The court stated that it would like to hear which procedure must be established for processing the claims over forest lands. It therefore directed feedback from every state in order to have a clear picture before proceeding with the case.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that a last opportunity should be given to the state governments to place the procedures adopted by them in rejecting claims on record.
Advocate Shyam Divan, on behalf of one of the petitioners, highlighted that the court had earlier directed the Forest Survey of India to undertake a satellite survey and submit details about the encroached portions.
Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, on behalf of the Forest Survey of India, submitted that only four states had submitted such information to the Forest Survey of India. He also submitted that the Forest Survey of India would require 16 years to complete the survey.
The bench directed the negligent state governments to file their replies in affidavits within 15 days. Further, the court directed all state governments to submit information on rejected claims to the Forest Survey of India by 31 August.
The court’s 28 February order of stay on eviction continues.
The next hearing is on 12 September.