The Supreme Court on Thursday continued its stay on the eviction of lakhs of Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers whose claims for forest land rights have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.
A Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra posted the case for hearing on November 26 and said the stay order first issued on February 28 would continue.
The Bench referred to how resorts and illegal structures have encroached on forest lands and led to the depletion of the green cover. Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for one of the parties, said the focus should be on the lakhs of forest dwellers who face eviction.
The court said “the mighty and the undeserving” who had encroached on forest lands would be shown no mercy.
While issuing the stay order on eviction on February 28, the court had acknowledged the need to further delve into whether due process was followed by gram sabhas and States’ authorities under the FRA before the claims for forest rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDSTs) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) were finally rejected.
More than 11 lakh people from the STs and OTFDs across 16 States faced the brunt of the apex court’s February 13 eviction order.
The apex court gave the States further time to file affidavits responding to complaints that there was a high rate of rejection of claims, non-communication of rejection orders, unrealistic timelines in deciding claims, irregular holding of State Level Monitoring Committee meetings, lack of support from the district administrations concerned in providing revenue or forest maps, rejection of claims despite incomplete or insufficient evidence, etc. In fact, the court now wants to know whether tribals and OTFDs were ousted from forest lands on the basis of sketchy, incomplete information and data.
The February 13 eviction order was stayed on February 28 after the Centre moved the apex court to modify the former order.
The government had said the eviction order would affect a “large number of families”.
“The eviction of the tribals may be withheld… the eviction of tribals, without such information, would cause serious prejudice to them who have been residing in forests for generations… Many are poor and illiterate,” the Centre had submitted.