[dropcap]A[/dropcap]FTER the Centre again failed to appear before the Supreme Court on Thursday, the apex court extended its stay on the eviction of lakhs of Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers whose claims for forest land rights have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.
The court, while extended its interim order passed on February 28 and put on hold the evictions of rejected claimants, agreed to hear the matter on November 25 for final arguments in the case, including the constitutional validity of the Forests Rights Act.
The three-judge bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, MR Shah and BK Gavaihas allowed all the requests by adivasi and forest dwellers organisations, senior academics and conservationists defending the Forest Rights Act.
The court also allowed the petitioners’ request to make the Forest Survey of India a party to the case. However, the court hasn’t passed any order on withdrawal application filed by the Wildlife Trust of India, one of the lead petitioners in the present case.
The court also issued a notice to the state governments on the applications filed by the petitioners to stop reviewing rejections of claims under the present law.
The Supreme Court in its order dated February 13, 2019, has directed the eviction of more than 11.8 lakh tribal families and traditional forest-dwellers from forestlands in 16 states of India. While this was ostensibly in the name of wildlife protection, the Court has not addressed the basis on which the matter is pending before it, namely, the constitutional validity of the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
The order was condemned by conservations, forests dwellers’ movements, and the United Nations special rapporteurs for human rights.
After a nationwide protest, the government finally reached out the Court and admitted most rejections of claims have been illegal, and asked the court to stay its eviction order.
The Centre’s previous failures to appear had led to an order by the top court on February 13 to the state governments across India, to evict all those people whose claims under the act had been rejected.