Today, in the Supreme Court, the Modi government once again revealed its true colours. Some petitioners are seeking to have the Forest Rights Act struck down. In the face of this grave threat to millions, no lawyer argued at all for the Central government – even after three senior opposition leaders and people’s organisations had raised this utter negligence in a letter to the Prime Minister. The Supreme Court heard only from the petitioners – wildlife organisations that have a history of misleading claims about the Forest Rights Act – and from a lawyer representing an organisation of affected tribals.
The Centre’s callous neglect resulted in a one-sided hearing where the petitioners tried to claim that everyone whose claim has been rejected is an “encroacher” who should be evicted (even though both the UPA and the NDA governments have repeatedly admitted that many rejections are illegal). Fortunately the Supreme Court did not go along with this – the Court did not direct the eviction of those forest dwellers whose claims were not accepted. Instead, the Court has asked State governments to report on steps taken in case of rejections and to complete reviews of rejections within four months; and has also asked the Forest Survey of India to provide satellite imagery of forests to assess forest destruction.
The petitioners in these linked cases against the Act, all of whom are retired forest officials, ex-zamindars, or a handful of wildlife organisations (Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife First, Kishor Rithe of NCS, Harshvardhan Dhanvatey of TRACT, the Wildlife Trust of India, and others listed below) have a history of misleading statements about forest dwellers.
In 2014, several of India’s top conservation scientists, environmental NGOs and forest rights groups had jointly asked the petitioners to withdraw as their “petition is likely to facilitate the accelerated loot of this country’s natural resources” and endanger the livelihoods of millions of people. This plea fell on deaf ears.
The Central government’s deafening silence makes clear that the apprehensions were correct – the government most likely sees this petition as a backdoor to sacrifice the Forest Rights Act.
For more information on these cases, please see here.
Praveen Bharghav, Wildlife Trust of India
Kishor Rithe, Nature Conservation Society
Harshvardhan Dhantavatey, Tiger Research and Conservation Trust
Wildlife Trust of India (linked matter)
Bombay Natural History Society (linked matter)
Retired Forest Officials from Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra, and Karnataka
T.N.S. Murugadoss Theerthapathi, ex zamindar of Singampatti