At least eight states have told the Supreme Court that proper process was not followed while deciding the claims of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers for forest land under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006, The Indian Express reported on Wednesday.
The affidavits were filed by 25 states and Union Territories on the basis of the top court’s directions on February 28, when it stayed its order from earlier that month evicting more than 10 lakh families of Adivasis and other forest-dwellers from forest land across 16 states. The court had asked the states to explain how they processed the claims and whether the rejections were justified. Now, 11 states have said they are reviewing the rejected claims.
Assam said in some districts the due procedure was followed and the reasons for rejecting a claimant’s application were communicated. But in a few districts, the reasons for rejection were recorded only during the proceedings of the sub-divisional level committee and the district level committee, and no rejection order was passed. It informed the court that it had started a review process to ensure that no genuine forest-dweller is deprived of his or her rights.
According to the Forest Rights Act, claims are prepared by the village-level forest rights committee and submitted to the gram sabha, or village council, which verifies and submits the applications to the sub-divisional level committee. After its approval, the claims are forwarded to the district level committee.
Apart from Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand have admitted that the due procedure had not been followed, Hindustan Times reported. Jharkhand has asked the court for time till July 2020 to complete the exercise, while Assam has asked for eight months and Karnataka sought 18 months. Chhatisgarh has said it will complete the review within two years. Gujarat and Telangana have urged the court to grant them six more monthsto finish the review while Bihar has asked for four months to decide the claims. West Bengal has said it will complete the review by December.
Karnataka said it found that most of the claims had been rejected without providing the applicants proper opportunity to provide evidence. Individual orders were not passed and the reasons for rejections were not recorded, it added in its affidavit. The state said the principles of natural justice had not been followed.
The Forest Rights Act 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.