Editorial Simplified: Without Land or Recourse | GS – II

Relevance :  GS Paper II ( Polity & Governance)


Theme of the article

The Supreme Court order on the eviction of forest dwellers raises very disturbing questions.


Why has this issue cropped up?

The Supreme Court recently issued an order with respect to the claims of forest-dwelling peoples in India — the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers.


Order of the court

The court has ordered the eviction of lakhs of people whose claims as forest dwellers have been rejected under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, or FRA.


Is this order of the court justified?

  • The Xaxa Committee observed that “claims are being rejected without assigning reasons, or based on wrong interpretation of the ‘OTFD’ definition and the ‘dependence’ clause, or simply for lack of evidence or ‘absence of GPS survey’ or because the land is wrongly considered as ‘not forest land’, or because only forest offence receipts are considered as adequate evidence.
  • The rejections are not being communicated to the claimants, and their right to appeal is not being explained to them nor its exercise facilitated.
  • The mere rejection of claims by the state therefore does not add up to a finding of the crime of “encroachment”.
  • The area marked for eviction falls under areas designated under Schedule V and Schedule VI of the Constitution — there is no reference to the implications for governance in the Scheduled Areas and whether the Supreme Court, in fact, has the authority to order evictions of Scheduled Tribes from Scheduled Areas.
  • In a democratic country with citizens (not subjects) and a written Constitution which is affirmed by the people who are sovereign, how can we countenance the dismantling of an entire constitutional apparatus that prescribes the non-derogable boundaries to Adivasi homelands and institutional mechanisms that promote autonomy and restrain interference in self-governance?
  • We are speaking of special protections under the Constitution — even more today than ever before. The presence of Article 19(5) in the Fundamental Rights chapter of the Constitution, which specifically enjoins the state to make laws “for the protection of the interests of any Scheduled Tribe”, is vital. How has the Supreme Court ordered the eviction in complete disregard of this core and express fundamental right protection to Adivasis ?
  • Is it not the supreme obligation of the Supreme Court to protect the Scheduled Tribes and other vulnerable communities from the grave harms of violent dispossession?
  • In the recent judgments of the apex court on the right to privacy and Section 377, the court has sung paeans to autonomy, liberty, dignity, fraternity and constitutional morality — the pillars of transformative constitutionalism. It is the same court in the same era that has now ordered the dispossession of entire communities protected under the Constitution.

Conclusion

The immediate result will be the forced eviction of over one million people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes and other forest communities. We, as citizens, have every reason to worry.