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Regular-article-logo Saturday, 13 April 2024

Stay on forest eviction with rap on government

The Supreme Court pulled up the Centre for waking up from its 'slumber' and claiming that due process was not followed

Our Legal Correspondent New Delhi Published 28.02.19, 09:01 PM
The court directed the chief secretaries of 19 states to file affidavits detailing the number of people whose claims were rejected

The court directed the chief secretaries of 19 states to file affidavits detailing the number of people whose claims were rejected Shutterstock

The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed its February 13 order directing the eviction of an estimated 10 lakh forest dwellers who had illegally encroached on forest land, but pulled up the Centre for waking up from its “slumber” and claiming that due process was not followed by the states while rejecting the claims of the settlers.

“You go into a slumber all the while and after we pass an order you are now seeking modification,” Justice Arun Mishra, heading the bench, told solicitor-general Tushar Mehta.

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The bench, which also had Justices Navin Sinha and M.R. Shah, kept the earlier order in abeyance, but clarified that it would not allow unscrupulous elements to encroach on forest land in the guise of forest dwellers.

The court directed the chief secretaries of 19 states to file affidavits detailing the number of people whose claims were rejected and the process adopted while carrying out the exercise.

The earlier bench had Justice Indira Banerjee instead of Justice Shah.

The Centre had on Wednesday moved the top court for modification of the February 13 order on the ground that it would render around 10 lakh dwellers shelterless and that many states had not followed due process of law while rejecting the claims of forest land ownership.

“This should have been brought to my Lord’s notice earlier…. There was an absence of assistance from our side,” Mehta said, admitting that the Centre could have put forth its views in a more effective way during the earlier hearings.

The solicitor-general, however, said the Centre had written multiple letters to states to follow the due process of law while rejecting the claims of the forest dwellers.

While posting the matter for further hearing to July, the Supreme Court said in its order: “…States have not stated the processes adopted for eviction orders of the tribals that have been passed… and rejection orders of claims have not been placed on record as to who all are rejected and under which provision of the law orders have been passed and who is the competent authority to pass such an order….”

The court noted that in most cases, tribals had not been served with rejection orders. It directed the states to clarify what process would be followed after the eviction orders are passed.

“In the circumstances we direct states to file detailed affidavit covering all the aforesaid aspects and also place on record rejection orders and also detail the process followed and what are the main grounds on which the claims were rejected. It may also be stated whether the tribals were given opportunity to furnish evidence and if yes to what extent and whether reasoned orders were passed regarding rejection of the claims,” the court said.

The court noted that it had been submitted that there was the likelihood of traditional tribals being evicted as the modus operandi had not been disclosed.

The court said that “mighty” and “unscrupulous” people must not be allowed to encroach on forest land “under the guise of” OTFD (Other Tribal Forest Dwellers) and STFD (Scheduled Tribe Forest Dwellers).

“Let states also point out category-wise details of those who are occupying these areas, whether they are STFD or OTFD and whether such persons can be treated as tribals. Affidavit to be filed by chief secretaries,” the court said.

“Until this exercise is undertaken, we keep our February 13 order on abeyance,” it added.

On February 13, the apex court had ordered 19 states, including Bengal, to take immediate steps to evict an estimated 10 lakh illegal occupants of forest land whose claims had been rejected under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

Under the Act, only notified Scheduled Tribes and traditional forest dwellers who are in bona fide occupation of the land are entitled to cultivate and live on the land. But over the years, several non-tribals and non-traditional forest dwellers had illegally occupied forest land, causing deforestation, it had been alleged in a PIL filed by the NGO Wildlife First.

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