Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday asked the chief ministers of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to file a review petition against a Supreme Court order directing states to evict families of Adivasis and other forest-dwellers whose claims over forest land were rejected, PTI reported.
In a letter dated February 23, Gandhi said “in order to preempt large-scale evictions” it would be “expedient to file a review petition” to the Supreme Court’s order and “take any other action” as deemed fit by the chief ministers.
The Supreme Court on February 13 ordered the eviction of more than 10 lakh families of Adivasis and other forest-dwellers from forestlands across 16 states. The order came after the top court heard petitions challenging the validity of the Forest Rights Act on February 13. The petitioners had demanded that those whose claims over traditional forestlands are rejected under the new law should be evicted. The petitions were filed by Wildlife First, a non-governmental organisation, and retired forest officials who blamed the Act for deforestation and encroachment of forest lands.
Gandhi cited a status report of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act which highlighted that less than 45% of the Individual Forest Rights and 50% of the Community Forest Rights claims were approved as on April in 2018. “Further, the MoTA has pointed out that forest staff often raised frivolous objections leading to rejection,” he said.
The Congress chief said eviction based on rejected claims over forest land alone and without a proper review and appeal process violated the due process of law. “For millions of adivasis and other forest dwellers ‘Jal, Jangal and Zameen’ is integral to their Right to Life guaranteed by our Constitution,” he said. “It is time for us to work towards deepening the promise of India for everyone.”
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Sunday expressed support for the tribal communities and said his government would put up its own lawyer in the next hearing of the Supreme Court, according to Gandhi’s directive. “If needed, we will file a review petition as well,” Baghel tweeted.
Correction and clarifications: The article has been updated to reflect that NGO Wildlife First is one of the petitioners before the Supreme Court, not the Wildlife Trust of India.