Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Without land or recourse

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of the vulnerable sections

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Various Forest Rights Acts and their provisions

Mains level: Supreme Court Order on  Eviction of forest dwellers and it’s constitutional validity


NEWS

CONTEXT

Supreme court has ordered the eviction of lakhs of people whose claims as forest dwellers have been rejected under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, or FRA.

Ramifications of such decision

  • That this order negates the claims of citizens under special protection of the Constitution, viz. the Scheduled Tribes and other vulnerable communities already pushed by gross governmental neglect precariously to the edge, is another matter altogether.
  • The question centres on the responsibility of the Supreme Court in upholding constitutional claims and equal citizenship.

The background

  • The order in question was issued in the case of Wildlife First & Ors v. Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors.
  • The question before the court as stated in the order of 2016 when the matter was last heard related to “the constitutional validity of the [FRA] and also the questions pertaining to the preservation of forests in the context of the above-mentioned Act.”
  • The details regarding claims made under the FRA that were placed before the court by the petitioner in 2016 showed that of the 44 lakh claims filed before appropriate authorities in the different States, 20.5 lakh claims (46.5%) were rejected.
  • Obviously, a claim in the context of the above-mentioned Act is based on an assertion that a claimant has been in possession of a certain parcel of land located in the forest areas.”
  • A claim is made either for individual or community rights by the people/communities covered by the FRA. This is a plain reading of the Act, which is unambiguous on this score.

New Order

  • In the present order of February 2019, the Supreme Court specifically directs governments in 21 States by name to carry out evictions of rejected claimants without further delay and report on or before July 12.

Reasons Behind rejecting claims

  • According to the 2014 report of the High-Level Committee on Socio-Economic, Health and Educational Status of Tribal Communities in India, constituted by the Government of India (Xaxa Committee), 60% of the forest area in the country is in tribal areas — protected by Article 19(5) and Schedules V and VI of the Constitution.
  • Xaxa Committee observed that “claims are being rejected without assigning reasons, or based on wrong interpretation of the ‘OTFD’ definition and the ‘dependence’ clause
    • Xaxa Committee observed that “claims are being rejected without assigning reasons, or based on wrong interpretation of the ‘OTFD’ definition and the ‘dependence’ clause,
    • because the land is wrongly considered as ‘not forest land’
    • only forest offence receipts are considered as adequate evidence.
    • The rejections are not being communicated to the claimants, and their right to appeal is not being explained to them nor its exercise facilitated.

Against The constitutional safeguards

  • The presence of Article 19(5)  in the Fundamental Rights, which specifically enjoins the state to make laws “for the protection of the interests of any Scheduled Tribe”, is vital.
  • Supreme Court ordered the eviction in complete disregard of this core and express fundamental right protection to Adivasis (as distinct from legal/statutory protection), which protects them from a range of state and non-state intrusions in Scheduled Areas as well as from the perennial threat of eviction from their homelands.

Conclusion

Supreme Court ordered the eviction in complete disregard of this core and express fundamental right protection to Adivasis (as distinct from legal/statutory protection), which protects them from a range of state and non-state intrusions in Scheduled Areas as well as from the perennial threat of eviction from their homelands

 

By Er S

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