The Supreme Court’s order on February 13 can lead to the eviction of nearly one million persons from forestlands across states, who have not been successful in establishing their claims as forest-dwellers under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006(Forests Rights Act).
The bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee has directed states to ensure the eviction of all those persons from forestland whose claims under the Forest Rights Act have been rejected. The Chief Secretaries of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telengana,Tripura, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have to explain before Court why the rejected claimants have not been evicted. They have been directed to ensure eviction in all cases where rejection orders have been passed on or before July 24.
“In case the eviction is not carried out, as aforesaid, the matter would be viewed seriously by this Court”, the bench sternly warned the states.
The direction comes in a batch of petitions filed by an NGO Wildlife First and few retired forest officials, challenging the validity of Forests Rights Act. According to the petitioners, the Act has led to deforestation and encroachment of forest land. The petitions filed way back in 2008 also seek recovery of forestland from possession of those persons, whose claims under Forests Rights Act stood rejected. According to them approximately 20.5 lakh claims were rejected out of 44 lakh claims across states.
“If the claim is found to be not tenable by the competent authority, the result would be that the claimant is not entitled for the grant of any Patta or any other right under the Act but such a claimant is also either required to be evicted from that parcel of land or some other action is to be taken in accordance with law”, the Court had observed on January 29, 2016 in this case, before directing the states to file affidavits showing the status of claims.
Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of rejected claims, which approximately come to 3.5 lakhs, followed by Odisha, with nearly 1.5 lakh rejected claims. Uttarakhand has the least number of rejected claims, 51. The states of Goa, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are yet to adjudicate on the filed claims, and they have been directed to complete the exercise by the next posting date.
The 2006 Act seeks to correct the “historic injustice” done to forest dwellers by recognizing rights of forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in forests for generations, but whose rights could not be recorded. It lays down a procedure to vest in them the rights of occupation in forestland, of using minor forest produce for livelihood etc.
To be eligible for rights under the Act, the person has to be either :

  • traditionally residing in forests or forestland
  • traditionally dependent on forest produce for livelihood

The Act recognizes two classes of persons :

  • Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribe – members of scheduled tribe living in forests
  • Other Traditional Forest Dweller(OTFD) – persons residing in forest, or dependent on forest produce for 75 years

Section 6 of the Act lays down the procedure for establishing claims. Once established, the forest dwellers will get land rights, use rights and rights to conserve and protect forestland.
The state-wise break-up of claims :

  • Andhra Pradesh : 66,351 claims rejected
  • Assam : 22,3891 claims of STs and 5136 claims of OTFDs
  • Bihar : 4354 (2666 STs and 1688 OTFDs)
  • Chattisgarh : 20,095 claims rejected
  • Goa : Yet to adjudicate on 6094 ST claims and 4036 OTFD claims filed
  • Gujarat : Yet to adjudicate on 1,68,899 ST claims and 13,970 OTFD claims
  • P : Yet to adjudicate on 2131 ST claims and 92 OTFD claims
  • Jharkhand : 27,809 ST claims and 298 OTFD claims rejected
  • Karnataka : 35, 521 ST claims and 1,41,019 OTFD claims rejected
  • Kerala : 39,999 ST claims and 894 OTFD claims rejected
  • P : 2,04,123 ST claims and 1,50,664 OTFD claims rejected
  • Maharashtra : 13,712 ST claims and 8797 OTFD claims rejected.
  • Odisha : 1,22,250 ST claims and 26,620 OTFD claims rejected
  • Rajasthan : 36,492 ST claims and 577 OTFD claims rejected
  • Tamil Nadu : 7148 ST claims and 1811 OTFD claims rejected
  • Telengana : 82,075 claims rejected
  • Tripura : 34,483 ST claims and 33,774 OTFD claims rejected
  • Uttarakhand : 35 ST claims and 16 OTFD claims rejected
  • P : 20,494 ST claims and 38,167 OTFD claims rejected
  • B : 50, 288 ST claims and 35,586 OTFD claims rejected