Put up ‘credible’ defense of forest dwellers in Supreme Court: CMs, Govt of India told

Source: Counterview.net

The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan (BAA), an alliance of more than 300 mass-based organizations working for forest and land rights across the country, has written a letter to several state chief ministers and the Union  minister for tribal affairs, urging them to put forward “credible defense” of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in the Supreme Court so that the order seeking the eviction of 11.5 lakh adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers is “annulled.”

The letter, written ahead of the last day of the Supreme Court stay (July 10) putting on hold the eviction of forest dwellers,  regrets, “Despite the fact that the directions for eviction have been put ‘on hold’ by the court, the erroneous interpretation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) advanced by the writ petitioners that rejection of claims must, by definition, result in evictions, continues to hold the field.”

Insisting that “this interpretation of FRA is not only faulty, but also unsupported by law”, the letter says, “It also tends to compound the very historical injustice that FRA seeks to undo.” Hence,  it adds, there is an “urgent need to dismantle this interpretation of FRA and clarify the position of law.”

Drawing attention to allegedly “tardy implementation of FRA”, the letter says, “Performance of state governments with regard to recognition of community forest resource rights, habitat rights, as well as women’s forest rights, including single women, has been abysmal and flawed.”

Text of the letter sent to UP CM:

We, as concerned citizens and as an alliance of more than 300 mass-based organizations working for the forest and land rights, across the country, would like to bring to your attention the issues related to proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, and the ongoing judicial intervention in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

At the recently concluded national consultation on FRA in New Delhi on July 1-2, it was decided that we would reach out to you with an appeal to put forward credible defense of FRA in the Supreme Court in your affidavits and ensure that the order evicting the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers are annulled.

We urge you to give an undertaking to the Court that your government will implement FRA in letter and spirit and address the historical injustice meted to the Adivasis.

We believe that there is an impression that after the Supreme Court order dated February 28, 2019 staying its earlier order putting the orders for eviction ‘on hold’, there is no further need for the order dated February 13, 2019 to be recalled or modified.

However, despite the fact that the directions for eviction have been put ‘on hold’ by the court, the erroneous interpretation of FRA advanced by the writ petitioners that rejection of claims must, by definition, result in evictions, continues to hold the field.

This interpretation of FRA is not only faulty, but also unsupported by law. It also tends to compound the very historical injustice that FRA seeks to undo. Thus, there is an urgent need to dismantle this interpretation of FRA and clarify the position of law.

There is another reason why this interpretation of FRA needs to be challenged. It is well known that implementation of the Act has been uneven, and in many parts of the country there are vast sections of eligible forest dwellers who have either not filed claims at all, or who have not pursued the entire bundle of forest rights to which they are lawfully entitled.

Indeed, the performance of state governments with regard to recognition of Community Forest Resource rights, habitat rights, as well as women’s forest rights, including single women, has been abysmal and flawed.

The orders passed by the Supreme Court, having received wide coverage in the press and social media, will have a chilling effect on future rights recognition processes, on efforts by forest dwelling communities to protect their Community Forest Resource rights and Individual Forest Rights, and to secure their livelihoods.

For this reason, and to re-iterate the purpose of FRA towards correcting ‘historical injustice’ by acknowledging traditional rights, knowledge and governance of forest dwelling communities to forests, it is imperative that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs continue to press for the recall of not only the order dated February 13, 2019, but also the previous orders dated January 29, 2016 and March 7, 2018 as well.

For this purpose, we urge that the State Government of Uttar Pradesh should advocate this issue with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs at the Centre and must reflect the same in the Supreme Court in its affidavit.
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Signed by: Hannan Mollah, Medha Patkar, Jitendra Chaudhary, Roma, Ashok Choudhary, Ulka Mahajan, Atul Anajan, Prafulla Samantara, Brian Lobo, Dr. Sunilam, Adv. Aradhna Bhargava, Dayamani Barla, Teesta Setalvad, Virendra Vidrohi, Suneet Chopra, Raghvendra, Vijoo Krishnan, Prem Singh, Satyavan, Anil Choudhary, Bhupinder Singh Rawat, Shweta, Madhuresh Kumar, Ashok Shrimali, Krishna Prasad, Virendra Vidrohi, Deep Singh Shekhawat, Satyam, Sanjeev Kumar, Anil Varghese and other representative

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