War on Adivasi Communities and Forest Rights

Modi Government Must Issue Ordinance To Stop Eviction Of 20 Lakh Adivasi Households

IN a shocking order that amounts to the judicial subversion of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, (FRA) a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on February 20 ordered the time-bound eviction of all those families whose claims under the Forest Rights Act had been rejected by the authorities. All state governments are required to comply with this order, as a result of which some nearly 20 lakh adivasi households countrywide face eviction.

It is the Modi Government’ silence in court that allowed this shocking crime to get judicial sanction. The Modi Government’s lawyers remained silent spectators in court, failing to defend the adivasis’ rights to forests. The petitioners on whose PIL the SC passed this order - Wildlife First, Nature Conservation Society and Tiger Research, and Conservation Trust, NGOs which are headed by retired forest officials with a deeply entrenched hostility to forest dwelling communities - have declared that every single claimant whose claim has been rejected under this law is a "bogus claimant." As the Forest Rights Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a broad coalition of forest rights movements, has observed: “This flies in the face of the government's own findings, which state that many rejections were illegal and not in accordance with law. The petitioners then go on to contradict their own statement by saying that 14,77,993 claims were 'rejected' at the gram sabha level (in practice these rejections are often illegal interventions by forest officials); but any such rejection at the gram sabha level, by definition, can be appealed twice and can hardly be considered final. The petitioners expect that an oppressed, marginalised and often illiterate population, facing opposition from a forest bureaucracy riddled with corrupt officials, should be able to prevail on every claim they file - and if not should lose their lands, homes or livelihoods.”

Ironically the petitioners had not demanded eviction of adivasis; they had challenged the constitutionality of the FRA. But the SC ordered eviction - a relief which had not been sought and on which the affected parties were not even given a chance to respond - without holding the FRA to be unconstitutional!  

It has been well established that the adivasi communities are in fact crucial to conserving forests and wildlife. The SC order (in which the Modi Government is complicit) is basically paving the way for corporate grab of forest lands and a large scale humanitarian crisis for 20 lakh adivasi families.

The hostility of the Modi Government to the dalits and adivasis is proved over and over again. The Modi Government had failed to defend the SC/AT (Prevention of Atrocities) Act from dilution by the Supreme Court, and only passed an ordinance later following countrywide protests in which BJP state governments jailed Dalit protestors en masse. The BJP Government of Jharkhand has already been trying its best to undermine the Chhotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Acts in the state, and has unleashed police firing on adivasis protesting these moves or resisting land grab.  

We demand that the Modi Government immediately issue an ordinance to prevent eviction of adivasis and forest-dwellers whose claims under FRA have been rejected.