The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the implementation of its earlier order evicting more than 10 lakh families of Adivasis and other forest-dwellers from forest lands across 16 states. The Centre and the Gujarat government had moved petitions in the top court seeking a stay on the court’s February 13 order.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and MR Shah asked the 16 states to submit responses on how the claims over traditional forest land were processed and the competent authorities that decided on these claims.

The bench posted the matter for further hearing to July 10, by which time the states should file their responses. The Supreme Court cautioned that those found undeserving will not be allowed to continue with encroachment.

The bench was also highly critical of the Centre, asking if it was “sleeping over the last several years”. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre, said: “This is a human problem. Protection of forests and forest dwelling tribals have coexisted across the world. “

The Centre and the Gujarat government had moved petitions in the Supreme Court seeking a stay on its February 13 order evicting families of Adivasis and other forest-dwellers from forest lands.

The court heard petitions challenging the validity of the Forest Rights Act on February 13. The petitioners had demanded that those whose claims over traditional forest lands are rejected under the new law should be evicted. The Centre’s lawyer was missing from the hearing on that day, alleged the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a group of several adivasi and forest dwellers’ movements.

The court had directed state governments to evict Adivasis whose claims have been rejected. It had warned the states that “the matter would be viewed seriously” if this order was not carried out.

Nearly 3.5 lakh claims have been rejected in Madhya Pradesh, and 1.5 lakh in Odisha. Uttarakhand has the least number of rejected claims at 51, Live Law had reported.

Forest Rights Act

The Parliament had passed the Forest Rights Act in 2006. The law gave back to traditional forest dwellers their rights to access, manage and govern forest lands and resources within village boundaries, which had been controlled by the forest department since colonial times. The law makes the gram sabha the statutory body for managing forestlands, and protecting them. It provides that no activity should be carried out in these forests until individual and community claims over them have been settled.