Leaders of the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a former member of the Adivasi Congress, along with two organisations working for adivasi and forest dwellers’ rights, have written a letter to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, wondering if the Centre has decided to “sacrifice” the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
The signatories also include the All India Forum of Forest Movements and Campaign for Survival and Dignity. They told Minister of Tribal Affairs Jual Oram that in the last three hearings in the Supreme Court on petitions seeking to have the The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, struck down, the Centre’s counsel did not say anything in defence of the law. “Has it been decided that this Act should be sacrificed, perhaps to appease big corporates or other vested interests?” the signatories asked.
The signatories said they were “dismayed at the utterly indifferent and callous attitude adopted by the central government around the rights of millions of India’s tribals and forest dwellers”. They added that retired forest officers and others with “vested interest in violating the rights of forest peoples” had filed a petition in the top court against the legislation.
However, the signatories added, the Centre said nothing favouring the Act in the hearings held in March, May and December last year. They said the Ministry of Tribal Affairs is being represented at the hearings by a lawyer of “no stature”. The signatories said that the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance government had appointed senior advocate Fali Nariman to represent it in the hearings.
The signatories said that the petitioners want to evict forest people whose claims to their land have been rejected, while the ministry has admitted that many rejections need to be reviewed. “But in the recent hearings your lawyer has not even bothered to remind the court of this,” they added. “This is putting lakhs of poor tribal and forest dwelling families at risk of being evicted just because of the bias and illegal actions of officials.”
The matter may come up in court “any day now”, the signatories said. “Whenever the case is heard, the court is set to decide whether people should be evicted.” They demanded that the government put up a strong defence of the Forest Rights Act in the top court, and ensure that the “misguided” petitions are rejected.
V Kishore Chandra Deo, the chairperson of the Congress party’s Adivasi Congress, resigned from the post and the party on Sunday, and is likely to join the Telugu Desam Party, reports said. Deo had endorsed the letter prior to his resignation.