Hearing a petition today filed by a small group of wildlife NGOs, the Supreme Court today declined to hold that the historic Forest Rights Act of 2006 was “beyond the legislative competence” of Parliament to pass. The petitioners had claimed before the court that this law is “essentially a land distribution scheme” and hence fell within the jurisdiction of the State governments and not the Central Parliament. After hearing all parties at length on this claim, the Court did not endorse this notion and asked the petitioners to continue with their other arguments.
The petitioners in this case do not represent the views of most wildlife conservationists, who support the recognition of the rights of forest dwellers and ensuring that they can protect and manage their forests. Indeed, just six months ago, more than twenty Indian wildlife experts and forty international organisations had written to the Environment Ministry asking it to stop violating this law and stating that “disregarding the Forest Rights Act or undermining it will greatly damage environmental protection in the country.”
The petitioners in this case instead want to restore the rule of the Forest Department, with all its colonial powers, by using a technical Constitutional argument. The court has not endorsed this backdoor attempt to attack people’s rights. The case will now proceed on the other claims of the petitioners, but we are confident that these too will be defeated.
Case Details: Wildlife First and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. (WP 109 / 2008), tagged with several related writ petitions and being heard by Justices Chelameswar, Sapre and Roy. Counsel for petitioners is Senior Advocate Shyam Diwan; for the Union of India is Additional Solicitor General and Senior Advocate PS Narasimha; and for several impleaded tribals and forest dwellers’ groups, Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh appeared. See here for more details on these cases.