In an utter disregard for the tribal rights – visible from its attempt to sell off tribal lands to the corporates – the BJP government failed to defend the Forest Rights Act (FRA), as the Supreme Court questioned the states regarding the action taken against the tribals whose land claims have been rejected.
The order came in response to a petition claiming before the court that everyone whose FRA claim has been rejected, is an “encroacher”, and should be evicted.
The court, on February 13, had directed the states to review such rejections within four months.
The Centre, the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change – which are respondents in the case – have kept silent in the last four hearings.
Speaking to Newsclick, Rahul Choudhary, an environmental lawyer, said, “Under the FRA, there are three levels of committees. It also comes down to the opinions of the committee; we have been constantly witnessing cases where the government is deliberately not doing enough to defend the Act for its ulterior motives.” Citing the example of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh, he said, “Lease for the land was very conveniently given to the dam project despite opposition from the tribals. In another instance in Chhattisgarh, the government is not taking into consideration linear projects such as that of roads and railways under its ambit.”
Activists on the ground have been asserting that the government is doing its best to not recognise the FRA, and manipulate the tribal records to make the process of their eviction much easier.
Speaking to Newsclick, Aradhna Bhargav of the National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) said, “We have been working with the tribals for a while now. We condemn the behaviour of the government towards the tribals and their right to livelihood. The government is furthering the agenda of forceful acquisition by the hands of the corporates.”
She added, “Other policies protecting the tribals have been completely weakened, they (the corporates) are making inroads even into the buffer zones, while the government is doing nothing to safeguard their rights because of this hand in glove mentality.”
On February 4, leaders from the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress, along with two platforms of Adivasis and forest dwellers’ movements, sent a letter to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs about its failure to defend the historic and landmark Forest Rights Act in the Supreme Court. Yet, the ministry seems unmoved. Meanwhile, the order from the Supreme Court has triggered anxieties among the tribals who are paying the price of the state apathy which could lead to their eviction.
Also read: Pathalgarhi Movement: In Massive Crackdown, 250 Tribals Booked Under Sedition