Arguments on September 12th 2019Eviction of Forest Dwellers
The Supreme Court is monitoring the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (herafter ‘Forest Rights Act’). On February 13th 2019, it ordered States to evict or take other appropriate legal action against all forest dwellers who had had their land claims under the Forest Rights Act rejected. A fortnight later, the court stayed its order after the Union, in particular the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, expressed concern over whether due process had been followed in rejecting claims. The court directed all states to file affidavits submitting whether they had followed due process.
In the previous hearing, the court determined that nine States had not followed due process in rejecting claims. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that seven states had failed to file their affidavits. The bench directed these negligent States to file their affidavits within 15 days. Further, it directed all States to submit information on rejected claims to the Forest Survey of India by August 31st.
Today, the bench comprising Justice Mishra, Shah and Gavai made the Forest Survey of India a party to the case and listed the matter for November 26th.
Wildlife Trust of India withdraws
The NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has withdrawn its petition. On August 27th, Advocate PB Kak filed an interlocutory application praying for the court to remove the WTI as a party. WTI had filed its petition in 2008, praying for the court to strike down the Forest Rights Act as unconstitutional. It is the second major party to withdraw, the Bombay Natural History Society being the other.
The Bench made the Forest Survey of India (FSI) a party to the case. Previously, it directed the FSI to conduct a satellite survey of encroachment on forest land. Today, the FSI submitted that it would require permission to perform the survey by all States and Union Territories. It stated that it had already requested the same from each State/UT. Sr. Adv. Shyam Divan emphasised that the Union needed to release adequate funds to the FSI, as currently it could take up to 16 years to complete the survey.
In addition, the court made several new NGOs and Adivasi groups parties to the case.
The State of Assam submitted that no claims under the Act had been filed.
Sr. Adv. Colin Gonsalves appearing for an intervener stressed that Schedule Tribes should not be evicted if States failed to follow due process in rejecting claims.
The bench listed the matter for November 26th, by which time States must have supplied appropriate details to the FSI. The bench stressed that not all interveners would be allowed to present oral argument and requested counsels to coordinate so as to not repeat arguments.