Millennium Post

SC stays its Feb 13 order directing eviction of 11.8L forest dwellers

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed its February 13 order directing 21 states to evict 11.8 lakh illegal forest dwellers whose claims over the forest land have been rejected by the authorities.

A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, Naveen Sinha and M R Shah directed the state governments to file affidavits giving details about process adopted in rejecting the claims.

The apex court posted the matter for further hearing on July 10.

It had agreed Wednesday to hear the Centre's plea seeking withholding of its February 13 order asking 21 states to evict nearly 11.8 lakh forest dwellers whose claims were rejected.

After briefly hearing the matter, the bench said: "We stay and keep on hold our February 13 order."

The bench also directed that the affidavits has to be filed by the chief secretaries of the states giving details of various steps covered for carrying out the eviction of the forest dwellers. Though the apex court gave relief to the centre, it was annoyed as to why it was in "slumber" for such a long time and approached it only after the directions were passed on February 13.

The top court said many of the points being raised now were never raised when the matter was pending.

"You have been in a slumber all this while, and now after we passed this order, you are seeking a modification?", the bench said and reminded the centre that it was in 2016 when the state governments were directed to file details of the rejection of claims and the follow-up action.

During the hearing the bench wondered "are these people all tribals or normal people living there".

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the NGO, Wildlife First, submitted that bona fide forest dwellers will not be affected and those "who have been granted pattas by the authorities will not be affected".

The Centre had rushed to the top court for modification of the order saying the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was a "beneficial" legislation and should be construed liberally to help "extremely poor and illiterate people" who are not well informed of their rights and procedure under the law.

While keeping in abeyance its order, the bench said chief secretaries would have to disclose the modalities of the procedure adopted to decide the claims on forest land.

The judges were of the view that many of these claimants may not even possess the requisite documents and asked the state governments to furnish documents to ascertain whether the rejections were made after following due process.

The apex court directed that the authorities would also examine whether the State-level monitoring committee which ensure that no tribal is displaced except in compliance with the formalities under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 were involved in the process when the claims were rejected. The top court asserted that in no circumstance the forest land or the customary right of the tribals be encroached by "mighty people". The Centre in its application said as the forest dwellers were extremely poor and illiterate, it was difficult for them to substantiate their claims before the competent authorities.

The apex court had on February 13 directed 21 states to apprise it about the action taken by them over the eviction of tribals and forest dwellers whose claim have been rejected. In the application, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs said, "It is respectfully prayed that this court may consider modifying its order...and direct the state governments to file detailed affidavits regarding the procedure followed and details of the rejection of claims and till then the eviction of tribal may be withheld.

"The eviction of tribals, without such information would cause serious prejudice to such tribal who have

been residing in forests for

generations," the ministry said in its plea.

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