In a last ditch effort to control the damage done by the Supreme Court order against tribal rights, the Union government filed a plea today before the apex court to modify its February 13 order, permitting states to temporarily withhold eviction of around 1.89 million tribal and other forest-dwelling families. The case will be heard on Thursday, February 28. The Centre pleaded that the three-judge bench give all states a chance to file detailed affidavits on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act.
However, a massive movement is gaining momentum amongst tribals and forest dwellers across India, following the anti-tribal rights order of the Supreme Court. The apex court had issued directions to the chief secretaries of each of the 17 states to ensure that in all cases where land ownership claims have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act, eviction is to be carried out on or before the next date of hearing, which is July 12, 2019.
Gearing up for a massive protest in the heart of Delhi, Dilip Yadav, organiser of the protest, said, “The tribals have been cheated by the Modi government, which did not even send its lawyers to defend the Forest Rights Act (FRA). Now they are uniting in Delhi for a press conference on March 1 and a march from Mandi House to the Parliament Street on March 2.” He added, “The march will see participation from across India. We are constantly telling this government not to evict the tribals and to stand up for our rights.”
The Joint Adivasi Youth Forum and the Indian Adivasi Forum, who are organising the protest on March 2, have also urged all rights-based organisations to step forward in the fight to safeguard the rights of the tribal community.
The Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM) also gearing up to file a review petition in the case.
Also Read: Supreme Court Deals a Body Blow to Adivasi, Forest Dwellers’ Rights
The claims of nearly 11,27,446 tribal and other forest-dwelling households have been rejected on various grounds, including absence of proof that the land was in their possession for at least three generations. These numbers are only a tip of the iceberg, and could surge as more states have been asked to submit their data. 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 of the court. The BJP-led central government’s failure to defend the rights of forest dwellers has led to the order that can uproot more than a million people from their traditional areas of inhabitation.
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, Barkha Lakra from Jharkhand who is also preparing to come to Delhi, said, “There is no question of fearing action now. For us tribals, this fight is now a do or die situation. It was the duty of the government to safeguard our rights and defend the Constitution, but it has failed us miserably. People on the ground are extremely furious with the verdict from the Supreme Court, an agency which should have ruled in our favour.”
Read More: 10 Lakh Tribals Can Be Evicted Owing to Centre’s Apathy