Orgs urge tribal affairs minister to defend forest-dwellers’ rights in SC

NEW DELHI, Jul 6: Civil rights organisations Saturday wrote to Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda and all states, drawing their attention to issues related to proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and urging them to convincingly defend the law in an ongoing case in the Supreme Court.
The FRA recognises the rights of forest-dwelling communities, many of them Scheduled Tribes, over the land they have inhabited traditionally.
On February 13, the apex court had ordered the eviction of 11.8 lakh “illegal forest dwellers” whose claim for land rights had been rejected.
However, on February 28, it stayed the ruling and directed the states to file affidavits detailing the process adopted in rejecting the claims. The next hearing is scheduled for July 12.
Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, an alliance of more than 300 organisations working for rights of forest dwellers, urged Munda and all the states to “put forward credible defense of the FRA in the court and ensure that the order evicting the tribals and other traditional forest dwellers is annulled”.
The letter also urged them “not to fall prey to the impression that there is no need for the Supreme Court’s February 13 order to be recalled or modified after the February 28 stay order”.
The interpretation of the FRA is not only faulty but also not supported by law. It tends to compound the historical injustice that the law seeks to undo, the civil rights organisations claimed.
They also claimed the performance of the states with regard to the recognition of community forest resource rights and habitat rights has been abysmal and flawed.
The letter follows a “national consultation on the Forest Rights Act” organised by Bhumi Adhikar Andholan in New Delhi on July 1-2. (PTI)